The family of Mullah Omar - the former Taliban leader who last week was officially confirmed to be dead over two years after his actual death - has reportedly rejected the appointment of his successor Mullah Mansour, as disagreement over the new leadership threatens to divide the Afghan militant group.
Mullah Mansour was chosen to replace Mullah Omar on Friday by a group of Taliban leaders, a day after his predecessor’s death was confirmed, despite at least one faction backing Mullah Omar’s son Yaqoob to take over after his father.
Mullah Omar’s family said in an audio statement released on Sunday by his younger brother Abdul Manan that it would not support Mansour’s appointment, and called upon the Taliban to allow a council of Islamic scholars "and those mujahideen [fighters] who had laid down the base of the Emirate of Afghanistan through their sacrifices" to appoint the group’s new chief.
"There should be a [grand council] so everyone has a chance to choose their own leader," Abdul Manan said, pointing out Mansour was selected by a small clique of council members. "I do not accept this selection of Mullah Akhtar Mansour because only a few chose him."
The statement also made it clear that the family had not yet given their symbolic pledge of allegiance to Mansour, but at the same time had not backed a rival candidate amid differences of opinion in the group.
“We have not pledged allegiance to anyone and will not do so because of differences over the new leader,” Abdul Manan said in the statement. "Mullah Omar during his life had always stressed unity among the mujahideen."
Mutasim Agha Jan, a former Taliban “finance minister” and aide of Mullah Omar, verified the voice in the audio belonged to Abdul Manan, The Express Tribune newspaper reported.
Both Omar’s brother Abdul Manan and his son Yaqoob were among dozens who walked out of a council meeting on Wednesday in the western Pakistani city of Quetta as Taliban commanders decided on the group’s leader, Reuters reported, citing three attendees.
"Actually, it wasn't a Taliban Leadership Council meeting. Mansur had invited only members of his group to pave the way for his election," said one attendee who is reportedly a member of the Quetta Shura (Council). "And when Yaqoob and Manan noticed this, they left the meeting," the source added.
Confusion in senior ranks
Shortly after Mansour’s appointment, the BBC quoted Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, a senior member of the Taliban’s Supreme Council who is also from the Quetta Shura, uttering his rejection of Mansour’s selection as a breach of the group’s rules.
"According to Islamic rule and principles, when a leader dies, a Shura (council) is called, then its leader is appointed," Mullah Niazi said.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mullah Niazi also said, "This decision was taken without our consent. Our Mujahideen have sacrificed their blood for two decades.”
“We have to appoint someone who has a proper knowledge and hold on Sharia and our Afghan values. Mullah Akhtar Mansour did not even contribute much to our movement."
Former Kandahar province governor Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rahmani has also rejected Mansour’s rule, telling Radio Free Afghanistan that he was chosen by a small clique of Taliban seniors despite being opposed by other Taliban leaders including Mullah Abdul Razzaq and ex-Guantanamo detainee Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir.
On the other hand, Mullah Zakir, who is based in Afghanistan’s Helmand province and is a member of the Leadership Council of the self-proclaimed Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, brushed off reports that his Taliban faction was opposed to Mullah Mansour’s leadership in a statement on the Taliban’s official website.
Meanwhile, the leader of the Taliban’s Haqqani network Jalaluddin Haqqani, who just days ago was reported dead, seemingly came out to refute news about his death with a new statement published on Taliban websites swearing his allegiance to Mullah Mansour.
"We are sure that the new leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour is appointed with complete legitimacy and after due consultation and he is the most suitable successor of His Excellency the late Mullah Mohammad Omar,” Haqqani’s statement said.
“We fully recommend to all the senior and junior in-charge ranks of the Islamic Emirate to pledge their allegiance with him and to fully obey him.”
Call for unity
Mullah Mansour released an audio message on Saturday calling on the factions of the militant group to maintain their unity in their fight against the Western-backed Afghan government.
“We need to be patient and should try to go to those friends who are unhappy. We will have to convince them and take them on board," the newly appointed Taliban leader said.
Mansour, who just like his predecessor is said to be in favour of the Taliban’s peace talks with the Afghan government, is expected to push for the continuation of talks into a second round after the first round of talks were completed in early July.
Mullah Mohammad Hassan Rahmani also reportedly said there is no division among the Taliban ranks on their stance towards the peace talks with the Afghan government.
However, the Taliban denied reports that a second round of talks is being planned to be held in Pakistan or China, with Mansour himself saying in the 30-minute audio that the rumours are "propaganda campaigns by the enemy."
The Afghan government, meanwhile, said on Sunday that divisions in the Taliban will not stop it from continuing to treat the group the same way it treats other armed opposition groups in the country.