taliban afganistan.jpg
Photograph: EPA/WATAN YAR

A leadership council of Afghan Taliban is meeting to pick a new leader after chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan on the weekend, sources said on Tuesday.

At least six names were under consideration at the meeting underway since Sunday, Pakistani intelligence sources told dpa.

“They are trying to zero in on one of them,” one official said.

Succession is a delicate issue due to competing factions within the broad insurgent ranks.

It took Mansoor several months to win over various militia when he took reins of Taliban in July, after it was made public that the movement's founder Mullah Omar had died in 2013.    

The leadership council is meeting somewhere in south-western Pakistan, where the top echelon has allegedly been based for more than a decade.

The council of about 20 clerics and commanders has the final say in crucial decisions.

Pakistan's main spy agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), is often accused of allowing the Afghan Taliban to operate, and it is expected to influence the choice.  

Mullah Yakoub, the eldest son of Omar, has emerged as one of the frontrunners for the top slot, the official said.

Either in his late 20s or early 30s, Yakoub is a graduate of an Islamic seminary from the southern Pakistani city of Karachi and known to have been close to the ISI.

He currently heads one of the Taliban military commissions in 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

For the ISI, Yakoub is not a preferred choice because of his “mental fragility,” but he is being seen as a unifier, the official said.

“He is the one most factions would rally around because of the respect his father had,” he said, “and that’s his utmost quality.

“But he is extremely emotional and that is his downside.”

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the chief of the Haqqani network, is another probable candidate, the official said.

Heading up the most powerful faction within the Taliban is Haqqani’s advantage, but he has some disadvantages as well.

He has reach as far as Kabul to launch attacks, but not influence among the Taliban ranks beyond his stronghold of the Loya Paktia region near the Pakistani border, the official said.

“It means no across-the-board support.”

Also, Haqqanis are seen too close to Pakistani spy agency.

"All the militants may not appreciate this." 

Another reason the Taliban council could avoid elevating Haqqani is that it would enrage the US.

“It will be like showing the bull a red rag,” the official added.

The US said Mansoor was targeted because he was an obstacle to a nascent peace process in Afghanistan, and warned Taliban leaders to return to talks that broke last year or face the same fate.

Among other contenders are Omar’s younger brother, Mullah Abdul Manan, former Taliban military chief Abdul Qayyum Zakir and Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi, a former education minister.

If the consensus is not reached on one of those candidates, someone else could be appointed.

“He can be a dark horse ... a total surprise,” the official said.

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