Mullah Yaqoob, the son of Mullah Omar--founder of Afghan Taliban, has taken over as interim commander following disagreements among members of the group over the leadership, after a number of senior Taliban operatives fell ill to coronavirus, according Afghan sources.
"Mullah Yaqoob (son of mullah Omar) has taken reins of Taliban movement and leading it currently. Taliban leadership is in disarray due to emerging disagreements. Several leaders are infected with COVID-19. Some members of the political office in Doha have been removed & will be sent back to Pakistan," Rahmatullah Nabil, former Director of National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan, said in a tweet.
The crisis over decision-making comes at a critical time for Afghanistan, as the United States is drawing down its troops in accordance with a bilateral deal struck with the Taliban in February.
Any hint of disunity at the top of the Taliban--and the possibility that it could spill into a violent rivalry with the internationally-backed government in Kabul--could affect the next phase of the so-called peace process, which include direct talks between the group and the Ghani government aimed at ending the nearly two-decade-old war.
"By pushing Mullah Yaqob to the de facto leadership of Tlbn, ISI is trying to weaken the role of some elder members of the Quetta Shura Tlbn who had lived in Afg in the past and have some sympathy for #AFG," Nabil added.
According to foreign media reports, Omar's key aide and a key Taliban leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, has been absent from meetings for some weeks, his place taken by Sirajuddin Haqqani, his deputy and scion of the brutal jihadi Haqqani network, which has links with Pakitan's ISI-backed al Qaeda. But even Haqqani has now contracted the coronavirus and is also absent from the leadership mix.
"The ISI wants to re-assert its control over the movement by backing and enlarging the role of the Haqqani Network. As per credible sources, there will be changes in the Tlbn political office," Nabil said further.
"Media wing of PAK military ISPR which helps the Taliban in production of their videos with slick graphics has prepared another propaganda. It is featuring a message from Mawlawi Yaqoob s/o Mullah of Omar. ISI is launching another terror leader on the global stage from its factory," he added.
Mullah Yaqoob has been consolidating his power since losing a bid to succeed his father when Mullah Omar's death was revealed in July 2015. He was instead appointed to lead the movement's military commission for 15 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces in 2016.
The illness of Akhundzada and Haqqani indirectly opens a door for Mullah Yaqoob to realize his ambition to take full control of the Taliban.
The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 and were quickly driven out of the country by the US-led retaliation for the 9/11 attacks, which were planned and executed by Osama bin Laden, when al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan, with Mullah Omar's approval. The Taliban leadership then regrouped over the Pakistan border, with support from the Islamabad government, forming a government-in-exile and fighting to unseat the Kabul government.