Who Is The New Leader Of The Taliban?

Photo: Banaras Khan/Getty Images.
Pakistan members of Jamiat Nazraiti party pray for Afghanistan's Taliban chief Mullah Omar, at a ceremony in Quetta on July 31, 2015.
One day in the early 1990s, two young girls were walking to school in a village outside Kandahar, Afghanistan, when they were kidnapped by a warlord. The warlord took the girls back to his camp and raped them.

Furious villagers went to a local schoolteacher for help. The schoolteacher galvanized his students, found the girls, and killed their captors. His name was Mullah Mohammed Omar Mujahid, and he would go on to become the leader of the Taliban. That is the origin story of the Taliban's first figurehead, as Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told Refinery29.

The Taliban is a staunchly conservative Muslim group that believes in unification under Islam above all else. Even following the United States going to war with the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks, the White House today does not recognize the Taliban as a terrorist group but one that "performs tactics akin to terrorism."

One such "akin to terrorism" act took place in 2012, when the Taliban shot a 14-year-old advocate for girls' education named Malala Yousafzai while she rode a school bus. A year later, Mullah Omar, who led the group at the time of the shooting, died in a Pakistani hospital. But the news of his death had not been widely known until this week; Taliban leaders confirmed it on Friday.
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Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour is the second-ever leader — or Amirul Momineen — of the Taliban.

Rubin traveled with the Taliban prior to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and authored the paper "Who Is Responsible for the Taliban?" in 2002. Rubin said that the Taliban's origin story has other versions — including that the Americans or the Pakistanis helped create the Taliban — but believes those are myths.

"[Mullah Omar]'s vigilante justice became very popular, [and] more and more Afghans were flooding to [him] for his help against criminality," Rubin said.

In a news conference, Taliban officials announced the ascent of a new leader: Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, Mullah Omar's longtime deputy. In his new role, Mansour is the second-ever leader — known as the amirul momineen— of the Taliban.

According to the United Nations, Mansour also had served as the Taliban's Minister of Civil Aviation and Transportation, and was involved in trafficking drugs.

"He was repatriated to Afghanistan in September 2006 following detention in Pakistan. He is involved in drug trafficking and was active in the provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika in Afghanistan, as of May 2007. He was also the Taliban 'governor' of Kandahar as of May 2007," according to an entry on him on the UN Sanctions List.

If people are looking for moderation from Mullah Mansour, for example in the treatment of women or the treatment of religions minorities or ethnic minorities...they are going to be disappointed.

Michael Rubin, the American Enterprise Institute
Both Rubin and Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute's Center for 21st Center Security and Intelligence, told Refinery29 that thorny debate preceded the decision to name Mansour. Some Taliban members favored Yaqoob, Mullah Omar's son.

"Although it was announced that the decision was unanimous, there was a lot of back-and-forth and a lot of contestation in the Taliban after the succession," Felbab-Brown says. Rubin also explains that, within the Taliban, discordant factions exist.

Felbab-Brown adds that Mansour is "known to be supporting negotiations with the [Afghan] government."

Even so, Rubin stresses that we should not expect Mansour to liberalize the Taliban.

"If people are looking for moderation from Mullah Mansour, for example in the treatment of women or the treatment of religions minorities or ethnic minorities...they are going to be disappointed," Rubin says. "The idea that he would be a reformer, or make the Taliban into a responsible party, is probably asking a little bit too much."
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