Taliban infighting likely to intensify after new leader′s appointment | Asia | An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 26.05.2016

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Taliban infighting likely to intensify after new leader's appointment

Some experts say the appointment of the new Taliban leader was done hastily to avoid power struggles within the group. The spokesman for a breakaway Taliban faction says Akhundzada is not representative of the jihadists.

The Afghan Taliban have called on all Muslims to support Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, who was appointed as the insurgent group's new leader on Wednesday, May 25. Akhundzada took charge of the Taliban following the death of Mullah Akhtar Mansour on May 21 in a US drone strike inside Pakistan.

Akhundzada, a little-known figure, had served as Mansour's deputy and a military court judge for the Taliban. The fact that he significantly lacks experience in combat fighting differentiates him from the former Taliban chiefs, and his scholarly background also makes him unpopular among some sections of the militant organization.

Pakistan-based Taliban expert Rahimullah Yousafzai believes Mullah Akhundzada's appointment was done in haste, which means that all Taliban commanders were not consulted.

"The power struggle within the organization will continue," Yousafzai told DW.

Signs of a rift

Mullah Manan Niazi - deputy of Mullah Mohammad Rasool, who heads a breakaway faction of the Taliban - says that many members of the Akhundzada group are joining their ranks.

Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada

The new Taliban leader is believed to be in his early 50s

"We have rejected the appointment of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada for the same reason we had denounced Mullah Mansour," Niazi told DW, in the Pashto language. "He does not represent the people of Afghanistan and the Mujahedeen (Islamic warriors)," Niazi added.

Rasool's deputy and spokesman also said that Akhundzada was chosen as Mansour's successor "in a rush."

"The leader of the Taliban movement should be elected by a Shura (assembly), which must involve all Mujahedeen, and tribal and religious leaders," Niazi said.

"Akhundzada is not popular among the Taliban members and he does not have military experience to lead the group."

Mansour was elected by a Taliban council as the leader of the militant group after former commander Mullah Omar was declared dead in July last year. Soon after his appointment, clashes between the rival factions broke out in southern Afghanistan, killing about 60 of Rasool's followers and 20 militants associated with Mansour.

Some analysts fear similar fighting might erupt between Rasool's and Akhundzada's supporters.

A unifying figure?

But Wahid Muzhdah, an Islamism expert andformer member of the group,believes Akhundzada could unify the movement.

"He may not have absolute authority over all Taliban commanders, but the fact that he belongs to the Noorzai tribe, will bring some breakaway commanders back to the movement," said Muzhdah.

The destroyed vehicle in which Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour was traveling in the Ahmad Wal area in Baluchistan province of Pakistan, near Afghanistan's border (AP Photo/Abdul Salam Khan)

Mullah Mansour was killed in a US drone strike on Saturday, May 21, inside Pakistan

A number of Taliban commanders opposed Mansour's appointment, as he did not belong to the Noorzai tribe that Mullah Omar hailed from.

Mullah Niazi disagrees: "Mullah Rasool is the acting leader of the Taliban movement. Once our other allies are released from prison, we will decide who will be the leader of the entire group."

The future of peace talks

Akhundzada's rise to power coincided with a suicide attack in the Afghan capital Kabul on Wednesday, which killed at least 10 people and wounded four others. Experts believe the Taliban are sending a message to the Afghan government that the insurgency will continue even without Mullah Mansour.

"The new Taliban chief will continue attacks in Afghanistan to prove that the movement has not been weakened despite the killing of their leader," Ahmad Saidi, a former Afghan diplomat, told DW.

Analysts believe that a change in the Taliban command will not help the Afghan peace process and may even intensify the war in Afghanistan.

It is not yet clear what approach the new leader will take toward peace talks, but observers fear that with the Pakistan-based Haqqani Network gaining more control over the group, the war in the country is likely to become even bloodier.

Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund, the newly appointed leader of a breakaway faction of the Taliban, addresses a gathering of supporters at Bakwah in the western province of Farah (Photo: JAVED TANVEER/AFP/Getty Images)

Rasool's group has alleged links with 'Islamic State'

"Mullah Mansour could have convinced the Taliban commanders to engage in peace talks - any other leader can't," said Muzhdah.

Both deputies of the new Taliban leader - Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani Network, and Mullah Yakoub, son of Mullah Omar - are in favor of continuing the insurgency, which makes it unlikely peace talks will take place any time soon.

The Taliban infighting is likely to make the initiation of peace talks even more difficult.

"Our group has two major conditions for peace: the implementation of Islamic law in the country, and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan," Mullah Niazi underlined.

But the rival Taliban factions have to first decide who is going to negotiate these conditions with the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, made up of representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States.

Additional reporting by Atiqullah Achakzay.

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