Fate of Taliban Leader Unclear

Fate of Taliban Leader UnclearFate of Taliban Leader Unclear

Conflicting reports have deepened uncertainty surrounding the fate of Afghan Taliban Leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, after the insurgent group repeatedly denied he had been wounded in a gunfight after a dispute with other senior leaders.

Several sources in the Taliban have said that Mansour, whose claim to the leadership is rejected by a rival faction, was seriously wounded and possibly killed in a shootout at the house of another Taliban leader near Quetta in Pakistan on Tuesday.

Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said on Twitter Mansour was wounded in a firefight near Quetta, in western Pakistan, but there has been no direct evidence, Reuters reported.

The Taliban’s main spokesman has dismissed the reports as propaganda from Afghan intelligence services meant to create divisions within the movement, saying Mansour is alive and well.

However, skepticism has been fueled by the secrecy that surrounded the death of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, which was only confirmed in July, two years after he had died.

There has been no statement from Mansour himself so far and Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said enhanced security measures meant it was taking some time to contact him directly.

The uncertainty has clouded prospects for any resumption in a peace process facilitated by Pakistan after talks broke down in July following the confirmation of Omar’s death.

Afghan officials are cautious about what the signs of increasing fragmentation in the Taliban could mean.

“The rift is certainly weakening the movement and if they are not one united force, it could be easier to convince them for peace or eliminate them,” said one official, who asked not to be identified.

Other Taliban members close to Mansour have confirmed he had been hurt in the gunfight, which followed a dispute over how to deal with the factional split in the movement, and had apparently been taken to a private hospital for treatment.

Dozens of people were killed in the southeastern province of Zabul last month when fierce clashes broke out between rival Taliban factions.