Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Mullah Omar Reported Dead Amid Succession Battle Rumors; Talks in Pakistan Postponed

Topline

  • On Wednesday, the Afghan National Directorate of Security announced that it had confirmed the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, claiming that he had died in a Karachi hospital in 2013; the Afghan presidency issued a statement shortly thereafter affirming that conclusion, and saying that the “grounds for the Afghan peace talks are more paved now than before”. Breaking reports as of this writing indicate that Taliban deputy commander Mullah Akhtar Mansour has been named the group’s new supreme leader, and Sirajuddin Haqqani his deputy. On Thursday, the Taliban’s chief spokesman reiterated that the group’s political office had sole responsibility for political negotiations, and said that it was “unaware” of plans for a second round of Pakistani-brokered talks scheduled to take place tomorrow. The Pakistani foreign ministry announced Thursday that those talks were being postponed, “at the request of the Afghan Taliban leadership”, “in view of the reports regarding the death of Mullah Omar and resulting uncertainty”. Hundreds of people attended burial services for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Malik Ishaq in Rahim Yar Khan on Thursday; the provincial head of the ASWJ was arrested at a protest in Quetta on Wednesday. The Taliban seized control of the Nawzad district in Helmand on Wednesday; operations are underway in Kunduz to retake the Khan Abad district. India’s home minister reported Thursday that the gunmen who carried out Monday’s attack in Gurdaspur had crossed the border from Pakistan. Prime Minister Sharif has urged the JUI-F and MQM to withdraw their petition seeking the de-seating of PTI legislators from the national assembly. Voting is underway in over 350 polling stations in Khyber Paktunkhwa for local elections where earlier results had been disputed.

Pakistan — Security

  • Malik Ishaq Buried: Hundreds of people are reported to have attended burial services for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi founder Malik Ishaq in his hometown of Rahim Yar Khan on Thursday. An anonymous ASWJ leader tells Dawn that the party will not protest Ishaq’s death, claiming that the ASWJ — of which Ishaq was named a vice president, but then reportedly removed from office after his most recent jailing — is a “peace-loving party” and suggesting that it had split with Ishaq over his militancy. Despite this claim, security officials are reportedly on guard against a possible backlash; two police officers were reportedly killed in an attack on a police station in Gujrat, and on Wednesday, Balochistan police arrested Hajif Raifq Mengal, the provincial head of the ASWJ, along with 16 other activists as he led demonstrations in Quetta against Ishaq’s killing.
  • Border Tensions with India: Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh told members of the Indian parliament on Thursday that the gunmen who carried out Monday’s attack in Gurdaspur, Indian Punjab, had come from Pakistan. Speaking at a weekly press conference on Thursday, Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Qazi Khalilullah rejected those claims. Separately, Indian army officials reported that a soldier wounded in cross-border fire near Srinagar on Wednesday had succumbed to his wounds. [Reuters] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • PM Calls for Dropping PTI De-Seating Motion: During a meeting on Wednesday with the heads of all major parliamentary parties, with the exception of the PTI, Prime Minister Sharif urged the JUI-F and MQM to withdraw their motion seeking the de-seating of PTI legislators in the National Assembly over their four-month boycott of proceedings last fall. Sharif urged “the national political leadership [to] leave behind the bitter experiences of our past and embark upon new beginning with the passion of strengthening democracy”. Both MQM and JUI-F are reported to have been “adamant” in their position. PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah has backed the PPP’s continued membership in the assembly. [Dawn]
  • Local Elections: Voting is currently underway at over 350 polling stations around Khyber Paktunkhwa where the Election Commission had ordered a re-voting after irregularities during the first round of local government polls on May 30. Extra security personnel have been deployed for the purpose. [Dawn] [Dawn]
  • Karachi Crackdown: Speaking before the National Assembly on Thursday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that the ongoing paramilitary operations in Karachi begun in September 2013 had resulted in a 43% drop in the number of targeted killings, a 37% decrease in murders, and the arrest of more than 58,000 suspects, of whom 731 had been suspected of murder and 517 of extortion. On Wednesday, the MQM accused Sindh police of abducting and extra-judicially detaining 12 party members and supporters who had traveled to Hyderabad on Tuesday to attend a wedding ceremony. Also on Wednesday, the Rangers told an anti-terrorism court that they could not comply with its order to provide detained MQM leader Qamar Mansoor with access to private medical care, saying it lacked the personnel needed to provide security. [Dawn] [Dawn]

Pakistan — Economics and Development

  • Flooding: Prime Minister Sharif visited parts of Gilgit-Baltistan affected by flooding on Thursday, where he announced a Rs 150 million relief package and Rs 500 million for the reconstruction of damaged roads. Three more villages in Chitral were hit by flash flooding on Wednesday, inundating more than 100 homes. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Punjab Police Cracked Down on Fundraising by Banned Groups [Dawn]
  • UN Reiterates Call for Execution Halt [AFP]
  • Chief of Army Staff Continues Italy Visit [Dawn] [ET]
  • Five Killed in Attack on Bannu Checkpost [Dawn]
  • Opposition Parties Back Protest Over Withholding Tax Strike [Dawn]
  • Government Wants to Continue Supply Electricity to Karachi Electric [Dawn]
  • Musharraf Exempted from Appearing in Lal Masjid Murder Case [Dawn] [ET]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Afghan Govt Says Omar Death Confirmed; Mansour Reported as Successor: Following an early Wednesday press conference at which presidential spokesmen said they were investigating new reports that Mullah Omar had died, the Afghan National Directorate of Security announced, and the presidential office subsequently confirmed, that Omar had died in a Pakistani hospital in Karachi in 2013. No details were provided on how that determination was made, or explanation given for the long gap during which Taliban and Afghan officials have continued to describe him as being alive; a White House spokesman said that they judged the report to be “credible” but declined to comment on specific details. Newsweek and the Express Tribune cite Taliban sources who instead claim Omar died in Afghanistan itself or “at his home in the border region”. The Post offers an extended obituary. Omar’s death has been reported multiple times in the past, and Taliban spokesmen have made limited denials to some news outlets of the report, although no major statement has been issued. Omar is not believed to have played an active role in directing Taliban activities for years, but he plays a major unifying role as the movement’s figurehead; the reports of his death coincide with intensified competition within the movement’s senior leadership as parts of it engage in a Pakistani-brokered negotiating process with the Afghan government. The Afghan presidency’s Wednesday statement confirming Omar’s death said that “[the] grounds for the Afghan peace talks are more paved now than before, and thus calls on all armed opposition groups to seize the opportunity and join the peace process.” Breaking reports as of this writing in the Pakistani press indicate that Mulla Akhtar Mansoor has been named the new supreme leader of the Taliban, and Sirajuddin Haqqani its deputy leader; no formal announcement has been issued by the Taliban. [WSJ] [Guardian] [Reuters] [TOLO] [Dawn] [GEO]
  • Attacks and Operations: Taliban forces seized control of the Nawzad district in Helmand on Wednesday, local officials confirmed; at a press conference on Thursday, army chief of staff for operations General Afzal Aman said that Afghan forces had “tactically stepped back” and would retake the district. The head of the Takhar provincial council warned on Wednesday that seven districts in the province were currently under threat of Taliban takeover; provincial police officials dismissed his concerns, saying they had adequate forces to protect the area. On Thursday, the Kunduz provincial police chief announced that at least ten villages in the Khan Abad district had been retaken from the Taliban after operations began on Wednesday. In Nangarhar, officials report that U.S. drone strikes killed as many as 20 militants linked to Daesh in the Haska Mina district. [Khaama Press] [Khaama Press] [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Taliban Talks Postponed: In a statement released on Thursday referring to recent media reports that the Taliban would take part in a second round of Pakistani-brokered talks with Afghan government officials, the Taliban’s main spokesman said that the group’s political office was “not aware of any such process” and reiterated that that office was responsible “for handling all its political affairs”. On Thursday, the Pakistani foreign ministry announced that “in view of the reports regarding the death of Mullah Omar and resulting uncertainty, at the request of the Afghan Taliban leadership, the second round of the peace talks has been postponed.” The statement adds that “it is further hoped that those forces, which due to their malafide intent wanted to undermine the peace talks, will not succeed in their designs.” The Express Tribune earlier reported that a six-member Taliban delegation arrived in Islamabad on Wednesday to take part in the talks; no names of participants were identified. U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Dan Feldman briefed members of the Pakistani press at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan on Wednesday, where he said that Pakistan had played an “important role in bringing the two sides to the table” and that the U.S. “will be happy to play the observer’s role or any other role we are asked in the next round”. [WSJ] [AP] [Reuters] [Khaama Press] [Dawn]

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Pres. Ghani Departs for Medical Treatment in Germany [Khaama Press]
  • Afghanistan Reportedly Considering Selling Consumption Share of TAPI [TOLO]
  • Integrity Watch Afghanistan Calls for Reform in Access to Information Law [TOLO]
  • Afghan Delegation Meets with Peshawar Corps Commander in Pakistan [ET]
  • Commentary: What Could Mullah Muhammad Omar’s Death Mean for the Taliban Talks? – “The death of Mullah Omar may allow Pakistan to put leaders it controls more fully in charge of the Taliban. It may also cause the Taliban to splinter.” [Barnett Rubin, New Yorker]
  • Commentary: Who’s In Charge of the Taliban? – “Though the Taliban’s leadership structure is purposely oblique, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour has long been seen as the insurgency’s second-in-command.” [Casey Garret Johnson, South Asia Channel]
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