Pakistan-Afghanistan Update: Taliban Confirm Mullah Omar’s Death, Name Mullah Akhtar Mansour as Successor; Challengers Remain

Topline

  • In a statement on Thursday, the Taliban confirmed that Mullah Mohammad Omar, the group’s founder and figurehead, had died “some time ago” of unspecified health issues, maintaining that he had never left Afghanistan. On Friday, the Taliban announced that deputy commander Mullah Akhtar Mansour had been nominated to succeed Omar, taking his title of Amir-ul-Momineen. Multiple reports note that Mansour faces opposition from rival military commander Abdul Qayyum Zakir, Qatar office head Tayyab Agha, and Omar’s brother and son. Rioting was report in Rahim Yar Khan following funeral services for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi founder Malik Ishaq, but Punjab authorities tell Dawn they believe the LeJ is “headless” and downplay the risk of major retaliation. The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan is preparing to revoke the licenses of 23 out of 33 international NGOs registered in Pakistan for failing to submit financial audit statements. At a press conference on Thursday, Imran Khan reiterated calls for the removal of Election Commission officials he charged with mismanaging the 2013 general elections, and dismissed the MQM and JUI-F resolution calling for the de-seating of PTI legislators from the national assembly. Journalists were barred from entry at polling stations in Khyber Paktunkhwa during re-polling held on Thursday.

Pakistan — Security

  • Violence at Funeral for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Leader: Police in Rahim Yar Khan report attacks on a Shia mosque and private property following the burial on Thursday of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi founder Malik Ishaq, after his death in a police encounter earlier this week. A heavy police presence of more than 5,000 officers has reportedly brought the demonstrations to an end. Anonymous Punjab authorities tell Dawn that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is “headless” and suggest it has little capacity to carry out retaliatory attacks after the death of Ishaq and deputy Ghulam Rasool Shah and their sons. Meanwhile, the WSJ profiles the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, the group’s political wing, which continues to operate openly in Karachi and other parts of the country.
  • NGO Crackdown: The Express Tribune reports that 23 out 33 international NGOs registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan are facing the revocation of their license to operate in Pakistan, over a failure to submit financial audit statements, including the British Council and Save the Children. 208 out of 643 domestic NGOs have also seen their licenses revoked.
  • Tensions with India: Speaking to parliament on Friday, foreign advisor Sartaj Aziz said that the government would raise allegations of Indian intelligence interference in Pakistan at the UN. The head of the Balochistan Frontier Corps reiterated allegations of Indian support for terrorist activities in Pakistan in remarks on Thursday. [Dawn]

Pakistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Election Complaints: At a press conference on Thursday and in an open letter to the Election Commission, PTI leader Imran Khan reiterated his calls for the ECP to take action and remove polling staff who he said had failed to effectively administer the 2013 elections, preparations for which he described as inadequate. The JUI-F and MQM have maintained their stance on introducing a resolution seeking the de-seating of PTI legislators from the national assembly, which PPP parliamentary opposition leader Khurshid Shah said the PPP would vote against; the PML-N is reluctant to introduce the motion for a vote out of concerns of division within their party. At his press conference, Khan dismissed the motion, saying that the PTI would win back any seats it was removed from. Both Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader Tahirul Qadri denied that their sit-in movements had received any support from the ISI. [Dawn]
  • Local Elections: Polling ended in Khyber Paktunkhwa on Thursday in 350 polling stations where a re-vote had been ordered over irregularities during the May 30 local government elections; Dawn reports that journalists were denied access to the polling stations. Security was heavy, and at least two dozen arrests were reported, and at least one clash between rivals reported in Mansehra. The Express Tribune reports that unofficial results showed the PTI winning seven district council seats in Peshawar and the PML-N three.
  • Corruption Investigations: On Friday, the National Accountability Bureau decided to initiate a corruption investigation against former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf in connection with the rental power project. The NAB is also investigating Sindh chief secretary Muhammad Siddique Memon and several Sindh board of revenue officers for alleged sale of government land.

Pakistan — Remainders

  • Turkish President Erdogan to Visit Saturday [Dawn] [ET]
  • Pakistan and China Hold Strategic Dialogue Talks [APP]
  • Two Killed, 11 Arrested in Operation in Khuzdar [ET]
  • Five More Convicts Hanged in Punjab [Dawn]
  • 207,000 Personnel to be Hired for 2016 Census [ET]
  • OGRA Recommends Petroleum Price Cut [Dawn] [ET] [Dawn]
  • Commentary: Anatomy of a Murder – “Without independently verifiable evidence, it is virtually impossible to successfully prosecute any accused on the basis of their confessions alone.” [Herald]

Afghanistan — Security

  • Taliban Confirm Mullah Omar’s Death: On Thursday, following weeks of rumors, the Taliban issued a statement confirming movement leader Mullah Mohammad Omar’s death. The statement maintains that Omar had died “some time ago”, of unspecified health troubles, and that he had never left Afghanistan in the fourteen years since the ouster of the Taliban regime. The NYT and Guardian have further obituaries. U.S. and Afghan officials tell the NYT that U.S. intelligence agencies had long since concluded that Omar played no operational role in the Taliban’s activities, leading them to effectively abandon a search for his whereabouts; the confirmation this week came from new statements by senior Taliban officials, driven by divisions over the leadership of deputy commander Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, who continued to issue statements in Omar’s name. The Post reports that CIA director Leon Panetta had, in 2011, confronted Pakistani officials with reports that Omar was undergoing treatment at a Karachi hospital, but otherwise echoes the assessment that Omar’s exact status was not a top American intelligence priority. [Dawn] [WAPO] [Guardian] [Khaama Press]
  • Mansour Replaces Omar as Taliban Leader: Coinciding with the confirmation of Mullah Omar’s death on Thursday, reports indicate that a shura of senior Taliban leaders met and elected deputy commander Mullah Akhtar Mansour to succeed him as leader of the Taliban. The BBC reported that Mansour has also taken the title of Amir al-Momineen, or “Leader of the Faithful”. On Friday, the Taliban issued a new statement confirming Mansour’s appointment and title; Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzada and Mullah Sirajuddin Haqqani have been named deputies. The Guardian profiles Mansour. The Express Tribune reports opposition to the consolidation of Mansour’s leadership by longtime rival Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, and by Omar’s son and brother, and Qatar office leaders Tayyab Agha and Qari Deen Mohammad. The NYT also reports continuing divisions within the movement over Mansour’s leadership and over participation Pakistani-brokered peace talks; the group’s Quetta-based shura leadership is reported to have come under heavy Pakistani pressure to accept negotiations. Talks scheduled for this week have been postponed, with no new date set. [AJE] [AP] [AFP] [Pajwhok] [TOLO]
  • Attacks and Operations: On Friday, a ministry of interior spokesman said that Afghan security forces retook control of the Nawzad district in Helmand, and that as many as 50 Taliban fighters had been killed. [TOLO]

Afghanistan — Politics and Diplomacy

  • Electoral Reforms: The new electoral reform commission met with civil society and women’s groups on Thursday to hear reform proposals; the commission has also met with international elections experts; TOLO’s reporting indicates that early discussions have focused on electronic voting mechanisms and “rebuilding trust among the people of Afghanistan toward elections”.
  • Female Judge’s Appointment: Chief Executive Abdullah met with a group of female lawmakers, women’s rights activists, and civil society activists on Thursday, during which he pledged that the government would nominate another judge to the Supreme Court despite parliament’s vote not to confirm Anisa Rasouli, the first woman to be nominated to the position.

Afghanistan — Remainders

  • Court Rules Taliban Fighter Can Still be Held in Guantanamo [NYT]
  • UK Court of Appeals Rules British Forces Illegally Detained Afghan Suspects [Guardian]
  • NATO Commander Gen. Campbell Meets with Abdul Sayyaf [TOLO]
  • Kabul Hit with Gas Price Spike [TOLO]
  • Commentary: The Mullah Omar Myth – “Those who want to steward the movement away from conflict now have an opportunity to make Taliban confront the fact that they are engaged not in a religious war but in a power struggle.” [Michael Semple, Politico]
  • Commentary: After Mullah Omar, Taliban Leaders Face a Legitimacy Crisis – “Omar’s demise further diminishes the likelihood of a best-case outcome of a negotiated settlement with Taliban leaders that carries the support of the broadest number of its members.” [Michael Wahid Hanna, Al Jazeera]
  • Commentary: Mullah Omar and the AQ-ISIS War – “Mullah Omar was the centerpiece of al Qaeda’s rebuttal to ISIS’s demand for allegiance from jihadist groups around the world.” [J.M. Berger, Intelwire]
  • Commentary: Rivals and Power-Sharing Tensions Hamstring Ghani – “Unresolved domestic rivalries and newly institutionalized tensions created by last year’s power-sharing agreement have limited Ghani’s authority and ability to deliver on promised reforms.” [Colin Cookman, World Politics Review]
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