Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Mullah Omar Reportedly Dead (Again)

The Afghan government has indicated it believes Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban has been dead since 2013. This has been reported in the past, and given the man's habit of avoiding publicity and staying out of sight (even when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan), this is extremely difficult to verify. There are only a few known photographs of the man; he is extraordinarily camera-shy. The US wanted ad simply describes his height as 'tall', rather than even giving a range of possible measurements. He has been reported dead in the past, but this time the White House has said the reports are credible.

These reports indicate that Omar died in a Pakistani hospital 2 years ago. This is important because Pakistan's support of the Taliban (as well as other terror figures like Osama bin Laden) has been alleged many times. How would Mullah Omar have reached a Pakistani hospital if he was in Afghanistan as the Pakistanis have insisted? It seems most likely that Pakistani intelligence was sheltering Omar, or at least turning a blind to his presence in the country. It was reported in 2011 that Omar spent time in a Pakistani hospital for a heart attack before being released. If true, this would be more reason to believe that Pakistan had a significant role in protecting Mullah Omar, a terrorist desperately wanted by the United States.

Afghanistan has long complained about Pakistani's meddling in their affairs, this would be sure to fuel speculation in Afghanistan about Pakistan's role in this regard. The Taliban are still supported by many people in Afghanistan, but Afghans evidently view Pakistan more negatively than any other country. This is likely to negatively affect attitudes of Afghans towards Pakistan.

The other major implication of this news is the challenge to Taliban unity. They've been united under Mullah Omar for two decades; he was seen as a uniting figure, even though he was not as media-friendly as Osama bin Laden. Without this man as their known leader will the Taliban implode into factionalism or will a new leader step up? I expect the group to break apart, though the threat posed by ISIS could keep them together.

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