With Mullah Omar’s death, the Taliban have lost a unifying figure. The possibility of another Taliban regime in Afghanistan might be over, but that also puts the ongoing peace talks at risk, says DW’s Florian Weigand.
There is no doubt that the death of Mullah Omar has closed a chapter in the recent history of Afghanistan. Along with the slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Omar personified the image of a “holy warrior” who turned against the West after fighting a long war against the Soviets in the 1980s.
His followers and the various factions of the Taliban revered him as Amir al-Momineen or the leader of the faithful. Omar hovered like a ghost during the Taliban’s insurgency against the NATO forces in Afghanistan, never actually appearing in public. His circulated pictures and messages could barely be verified, the latest of which was received two weeks ago at the end of the Muslim fasting month.
Mullah Omar remains in our memory as a dark-skinned man with a long beard and a blind eye. What the secretive Taliban leader did since 2001 was mostly a PR exercise which he carried out from exile in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
Whether Omar’s death will lead to a complete downfall of the Taliban is yet to be seen. But there is no doubt that a Taliban regime similar to the one we saw in Afghanistan in the 1990s is no longer possible. Even if the incumbent government in Kabul falls apart, the Taliban won’t be able to replace it and take over state affairs. What is concerning, however, is that the Taliban have been weakened by Omar’s death, and the “Islamic State” (IS) militant group is marching towards the region.
Regardless of when Mullah Omar actually died, the announcement of his death comes at a sensitive time, as peace talks between the militants and the government in Kabul are set to be held at Murree – a hilly resort near the Pakistani capital of Islamabad – on Friday, July 31. It is uncertain whether the Taliban representatives will be willing to talk much. It seems more likely that they will be preoccupied with fighting and questions regarding Omar’s successor. But perhaps the latter issue has already been settled given that Omar’s death has been rumored for years.
In both cases, however, the question remains as to why his death was announced today. The only ones who could profit from this are those seeking to sabotage the peace negotiations. Only they are interested in having no central authority to rubber-stamp the outcome of such talks or to at least negotiate on their behalf.
Now there is the risk that some Taliban factions won’t feel committed to the outcome of the talks and instead decide to join another Islamist terror group such as IS, whose leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has not been seen in public for some time now.