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Mullah Omar's death might be bad news for Afghanistan

Hussain Yasa | Updated on: 31 July 2015, 11:48 IST
QUICK PILL

The death

  • This is the third time in five years that there has been news of Mullah Omar\'s death
  • If true, his death will have a significant impact on Afghanistan and the region as a whole

The timing

  • This comes at a time when the Afghanistan government is in the process of negotiating with the Taliban
  • The Islamic State, earlier known as ISIS, is also on the rise in Afghanistan

The impact

  • Mullah Omar was a unifying factor for Taliban. If he is dead, it could break into factions
  • IS could also end up absorbing Taliban militants
  • Negotiations will become even more difficult with multiple factions to deal with

Mullah Omar is dead, once again. This is probably the third time in the last 5 years that news of the Taliban supremo's death surfaced in the media. Like previous occasions, the news is yet to be authenticated.

Government spokespersons in both Afghanistan and Pakistan were extremely cautious in speaking on the issue.

Among the two known Taliban spokesmen, Qarri Yousuf denied the news while Zabiullah Mujahid said that an official statement will soon be issued in the regard.

However, no one, including his close comrades, have seen him after the collapse of the notorious Taliban regime in November 2001.

This news comes at a time when the second round peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban are about to begin in China next week.

On the other hand, the insurgency in Afghanistan has entered a critical and violent phase, especially with the Taliban losing ground to fighters loyal to the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS and ISIL).

The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have never been under such military pressure in the last 14 years. The southern and northern provinces are under serious threat from IS-led terrorist groups, which are waving their black flags in the areas that lie beyond the government's writ.

Given this context, what will be the impact if Mullah Omar was officially confirmed to be dead?

Impact on peace talks

Taliban has always been reluctant to talk to the regime in Kabul, calling it a western puppet created by the US to undermine Islamic values. But after the end of the international military mission in December 2014, the buzz about a negotiation gained momentum.

A major question for Kabul was whom it should talk to, since there have been many Taliban groups fighting in various parts of Afghanistan having no coordination with each other. But even then, all the groups broadly accepted Mullah Omar's leadership.

His name at least had a symbolic importance which helped keep the Taliban united. He wasn't just a mere commander leading a campaign against Kabul, but the Amir-ul-Momineen (leader of the faithful).

If Mullah Omar is indeed dead, what will be its political and military impact on the Taliban? Will they be able to participate in the peace talks with the necessary legitimacy? Can the Qatar group, the Quetta Shura, the Peshawar group and the Haqqani Network be able to present a united front to proceed for the negotiations with Kabul?

On its part, will Kabul be confident enough to continue with result-oriented negotiations? And if, after the talks, the National Unity government of Afghanistan has to share power, which faction of the Taliban will be part of it?

It is because of these questions that many feel the news of Omar's death will have a negative impact on the peace talks. Some in the Afghan regime even say that it could be a trick to sabotage the negotiations.

The last but the most important question is that who will be Omar's successor (the next Amir-ul-Momineen), someone from his family or from the other unmatched factions? Will the next leader have the same respect or influence over all the factions fighting against Kabul?

Kabul will soon have to decide whether it is worth spending time and money on the dialogue or if it is better off focusing its energies on the battlefield.

Impact on the battlefield

Districts in the north are falling to the insurgents one after the other. Although the ANSF has been able to recover some ground, the overall scenario shows that the Ashraf Ghani administration may be vulnerable.

Mullah Omar's death may end up creating space for the IS. Many Taliban militants may get absorbed into it

The defection of 200 soldiers from Afghan National Police in Northeastern Badakhshan this week is an alarming sign. It shows that even soldiers are beginning to lose faith in Kabul. Analysts and even some politicians believe that the unexpected growth of IS in Northern Afghanistan is a bigger threat than Taliban. Far from a localised phenomenon, it seems to be a project to destabilise the whole region from Middle East to Central Asia and even beyond.

The fighters in the north have ambitions of crossing the border into the Central Asian republics. In northern Afghanistan, Taliban is subordinate to the IS. Omar's demise will provide a further boost to the IS in Afghanistan. Many Taliban militants might even get absorbed into the IS.

In Ghazni and Zabul provinces one hardly sees the Taliban's white flag. It has already been replaced by the black flags of IS, even before the news of Omar's death.

A number of experts believed that Taliban and IS can't go together because of structural and geographical differences. Some also said that Afghans will never accept the supremacy of foreigners. However, this seems an outdated belief rather than a fact on the ground

Conclusion

The news of Mullah Omar's death isn't necessarily positive for Afghans. Also, if he was already dead all this while, there must b some reason why the news has come up at this point of time.

The Afghan National Unity government needs to strengthen the understanding between the coalition partners from the south and the north.

The region as a whole need to prepare for a fresh wave of terrorism, perhaps of a more ghastly variety than before.

First published: 31 July 2015, 11:48 IST
 
Hussain Yasa @yasa_dr

The writer is the Chief Editor of the daily Outlook Afghanistan.

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