Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) must have known the exact date of the death of Taliban’s Mullah Omar – just as they knew Osama bin Laden’s address in Abbottabad, long before he was liquidated by American commandoes on May 2, 2011.
After all, ISI wouldn’t have missed the Taliban leader’s death, seeing that it took place in a military hospital in Karachi two years ago. And Bin Laden’s whereabouts were constantly under their eye, because, whenever he traveled they provided him with a well-guarded convoy. The date of his death depended on nothing more than the name of the American president ready to order his execution.
Interestingly, although Mullah Omar gave Osama bin Laden a home base in Afghanistan for his terrorist campaign, including the 9/11 attacks on the United States, the two men could never stand each other.
However, if Pakistani intelligence knew the movements of both men, so too did Saudi intelligence which put up most of the ISI budget and so, by the same token, did the US Central Intelligence Agency.
It fell to President Barack Obama to issue Bin Laden’s death warrant for the sake of boosting his credibility for fighting Muslim terror.
Succession race cripples Taliban’s grab for power in Kabul
That today is public knowledge. But it is harder to determine who profited from the two-year delay in revealing Mullah Omer’s death.
It could have been the Pakistanis, the Saudis, the Afghans or even the Americans.
It is obvious only that whoever engineered the delay used it to throw the Taliban into a violent leadership struggle over the succession to Mullah Omer and so cripple its bid to seize power in Kabul.
How this stratagem turns out is anyone’s guess. Even Pakistani intelligence can’t always keep up with the vagaries of feuding among the various clans and families that make up the Taliban leadership, or determine at any given moment which is jumping into bed with whom, while pledging loyalty to another rival.
Certain outlines are nevertheless beginning to take shape:
1. The overnight “discovery” of Mullah Omar’s death at this time strengthened the hand of the opponents of the peace talks taking place since 2013 in the Qatari capital of Doha, where Taliban maintains its only foreign embassy. The identity of the group’s negotiator was always a dark secret, closely kept by the various parties playing politics in Kabul.
Taliban elders step in to mediate between rival contenders
What has been discovered is that Washington kept secret communications lines open to the Taliban leadership throughout this period via its Doha embassy and “ambassador” Tayeb Agha.
This same Tayeb Agha resigned on Aug. 3.
2. His resignation followed closely on the disclosure of Omar’s death, which brought the succession struggle, hitherto fought in dark corners, out into the open.
3. Two contenders stand out – although others may join the race:
- “Ambassador” Tayeb Agha, backed by some US, Saudi and Pakistani parties.
- Akhtar Mansour, a Taliban high-up, who laid claim to the job last week. He is strongly opposed by the late Mullah Omar’s brother, Mullah Abdul Manan Hotak, oldest son, Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub and several other Taliban leaders. They accuse Mansour of attempting a coup by staging a succession ceremony last week in the Pakistan town of Quetta, without allowing all senior members a vote.
A group of 200 religious leaders and tribal elders are trying to resolve the contest between Tayeb Agha and Akhtar Mansour – and between the latter and the late Mullah Omar’s family. For now, talks with the United States are on ice indefinitely.