The Taliban confirmed on Thursday that their supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had died. But the group’s wrestling with the question of who would succeed him as head of the Afghan insurgency — or whether it would splinter irrevocably — already seemed well underway.
With the future of political negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government up in the air, two candidates seemed positioned to vie for leadership: Mullah Omar’s eldest son, Yaqoub, and closest deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.
Interviews with a range of Taliban members over the past few days indicated that most saw Mullah Mansour as the de facto leader of the Taliban’s primary governing body, known as the Quetta Shura, in exile in Pakistan. He had already been acting in Mullah Omar’s name for several years, even as other Taliban leaders lost contact with the movement’s supreme commander.
But the formal succession of leadership of the Taliban’s core command is far from finalized, cautioned a member of the Quetta Shura who was interviewed by telephone and spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid angering his colleagues or the Pakistani authorities who monitor them.