Mullah Mansour’s fate


And the Heart of Asia conference


With the Indian foreign minister coming for the Heart of Asia conference in Islamabad, a welcome opportunity for holding meaningful discussions with both eastern and western neighbours has arisen. Yet there are complications that must not be overlooked. This is the third time Nawaz has played the peace card with Modi; and the results of the first two attempts inspire little confidence. The meeting with Ghani will be no walk in the park either. He has only reluctantly agreed to meet after some unconventional Pashtun diplomacy and, no doubt, a little push from Washington. But the mystery now surrounding Mullah Mansour’s fate has put the peace process at risk again.

The sequence of events is interesting and instructive. The Taliban’s year started with the best Spring Offensive on record. Since this was the first time the Afghan army was without Nato and Isaf, and its limits were quickly exposed, Kabul accepted to talk to the Taliban. And that led to the Murree talks. But the revelation of Mullah Omar’s death – some years ago – not only de-railed the peace process but also triggered a succession fight among the Taliban. Mansour’s authority has remained limited at best.

If he dies, and there is further friction within the militia, Kabul would naturally want to fight them when they are weak instead of negotiating while they recover. And that would be the end of Pakistan’s relevance in this multi-national peace effort. The Afghan media was quick to catch on to reports that Mansour was injured and killed in a firefight near Quetta, in Pakistan. That the Taliban remained silent, then released an audio of Mansour’s days later, betrays not just incompetence but also secrecy, which only fuels speculation. At moments like these, the folly of keeping Mullah Omar’s death secret for so long becomes more obvious. Since this Mansour matter is crucial for Heart of Asia’s wider success, it should be handled more carefully and facts must be investigated and made known to all stakeholders.