Mullah Omar’s Death Announcement, a Calculated Gamble by Pakistan, Afghanistan

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Mohammad Hossein Dehghanian
Ph.D. Student of International Relations, University of Tehran,
Expert on Indian Subcontinent

On July 29, the government of Afghanistan quoted Pakistani officials as saying that the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, was dead. About 24 hours later, the Taliban also released an official statement confirming his death and it took them less than 24 more hours to introduce their new leader.

The importance of Mullah Omar cannot be underestimated. His symbolic influence was far beyond the Taliban, so that, even the former leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, had sworn allegiance to him and last year, his successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, renewed his allegiance to Mullah Omar as a sign of his opposition to the leader of the ISIS terrorist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Even the Taliban in Pakistan considered him as their leader. Therefore, the absence of Mullah Omar means that not only the Afghan Taliban will experience implosion and lose its symbolic integrity, but clashes and internal conflicts will soar high among other militant groups across Pakistan and Afghanistan. It seems that ISIS will be the final winner of this melee and it has been offered with the best opportunity to recruit new members in Afghanistan. Now, a large number of disillusioned and leaderless members of the Taliban would possibly join the ranks of ISIS.

On the whole, it seems that due to his high influence on regional developments, the consequences of Mullah Omar’s death will be more significant than the reverberations of the death of Osama bin Laden because Bin Laden’s influence was much less than Mullah Omar. However, what happened to al-Qaeda after the death of Bin Laden was fragmentation of the integrated structure of al-Qaeda as a result of which it was broken down into rival groups, which finally gave birth to ISIS.

Reports on the rising influence of ISIS in Afghanistan have apparently prompted the National Directorate of Security (NDS), as the main intelligence service of the country, to establish a special unit to deal with this new threat. In fact, the goal behind the establishment of this new section is to prevent ISIS from strengthening its presence in Afghanistan. Hassib Sediqi, the spokesman of NDS, has been quoted as saying that ISIS has secured a foothold in Afghanistan’s provinces of Nangarhar, Helmand, and Farah. The noteworthy point in this regard is that what we know as ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan is comprised of the former forces of the Taliban, who have changed position and jointed ISIS.

Almost simultaneous with the revelation about Mullah Omar’s death by a Taliban splinter group, which has joined ISIS and calls itself “Fidai Mahaz,” a report was released noting that a document related to ISIS had been leaked showing the group has pinned its hope on forming an army of Afghan and Pakistani militants, which under the present circumstances, can provide ISIS with a unique opportunity. This document, which has been dubbed “A Brief History of ISIS,” and whose original copy is in Urdu, has uncovered ISIS’ plans to unite dozens of Taliban splinter groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the form of a single army.  Therefore, now, ISIS is happier than other parties because there is a large number of the Taliban militants who are no more under the allegiance to Mullah Omar at a time that ISIS has emerged as a powerful substitute. Pakistani journalist, Ahmad Rashid, believes that ISIS will try at any price to undermine peace talks with the Taliban.

Another group, which can avail itself of the death of the leader of the Taliban, is Hezbi Islami (Islamic Party) led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. As of late, there were reports that Hekmatyar had become inclined toward ISIS and some reports even talked about him joining the terrorist group. Of course, those reports were later denied, though not by Hekmatyar himself. He has also sharply criticized the Islamic Republic of Iran. According to some reports, Hekmatyar has ordered his forces to take sides with ISIS in any conflict between ISIS and the Taliban. He has also especially emphasized on the animosity of the Taliban toward the Islamic Party.

There are other groups in Afghanistan, which may become inclined toward ISIS in the absence of such a symbolic personality as Mullah Omar. One of these groups, which has its roots in Central Asia, is the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU). This group, which has branched from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), has become more active in Afghanistan in recent months. However, unlike IMU, which has officially sworn allegiance to ISIS, IJU is still working with the Taliban and has announced that it was a party to “Azm (Resolve)” operation carried out by the Taliban. IJU has focused its activities in the eastern Afghan provinces of Paktika, Paktia, and Nangarhar, in addition to the northern provinces of Badakhshan and Kunduz. This group had owned up to its close links to the Taliban in the past, which to some extent, may be due to their rivalry with IMU. IJU was present in Afghanistan in the past years and international coalition forces carried out 19 special operations against this group in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2013.

Consequences of Mullah Omar’s death for Taliban

The impact of the death of the leader of the Taliban on this group in the form of subsequent weakening and fragmentation of the group can be considered as an inevitable outcome. Taliban is afflicted by division and internal differences due to a number of reasons. During the past year, ISIS has gradually secured a foothold in Afghanistan and has been able to attract some Taliban forces and commanders by spending money and offering financial rewards. In the meantime, accepting to sit down for peace talks by the Taliban under pressure from the government of Pakistan concurrent with the group’s war in Afghanistan, led to more division among the Taliban and some of its leaders declared their opposition to the peace talks. At present, the death of Mullah Omar is considered as another reason which will add fuel to the group’s internal differences. This situation will also make peace negotiations with the Taliban more difficult.


Considering all the aforesaid conditions and existing factors and also taking into account that before announcement of Mullah Omar’s death, three senior leaders of ISIS in Afghanistan had been killed in a US airstrike, it seems that declaration of his death is a calculated gamble on the part of governments in Pakistan and Afghanistan to determine the fate of rogue elements of the Taliban and reduce the speed of the group’s military achievements. During recent months, there was almost daily news about the Taliban conquering various districts of Afghanistan. Following the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death, all the group’s operations will come to a standstill. On the other hand, opposition of certain Taliban elements – including Abdul Qayyum Zakir and Tayyeb Agha – to the leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mansour (as Mullah Omar’s substitute) is considered disobedience to the Taliban leader’s commands and will pave the way for the elimination of those elements. A close look will show that it was the Pakistani army and its intelligence service, ISI, which considered it deem to break the news of Mullah Omar’s death. Pakistan had promised to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table and had taken remarkable concessions from the government of Afghanistan in this regard. Therefore, it reached the conclusion that it was better to make a decisive decision and determine the fate of rogue elements of the Taliban. However, the final consequences of this measure can be well out of the control of both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Key Words: Mullah Omar, Death, Pakistan, Afghanistan, ISIS Terrorist Group, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Allegiance, Tliban, National Directorate of Security, Consequences, Dehghanian

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