New Taliban leader urges unity in ranks

Kabul, August  1

The new Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour called for unity in the movement today in his first audio message since becoming head of the group that faces deepening splits following the death of longtime chief Mullah Omar.

Barely a few hours after Mansour’s appointment was announced yesterday, powerful rivals within the fractious Taliban questioned the selection process, saying it was rushed and even biased.

Mansour’s comments are apparently aimed at fending off the emerging risk of the group splintering into factions at a time when there is growing discord over the direction of peace talks with the Afghan government.

“We should all work to preserve unity. Division in our ranks will only please our enemies, and cause further problems for us,” Mansour said in the audio recording posted on the Taliban website.

The 33-minute recording was released from an undisclosed location and the sound of a crying baby was briefly heard in the background.

In his speech, Mansour also implored Taliban cadres to continue waging their 14-year insurgency and to be wary of foreign propaganda to sow disunity within the group.

“Our goal and slogan is to implement sharia law and an Islamic system, and our jihad will continue until this is done,” he said in the message.

Mansour faces staunch internal resistance from some members of the Taliban’s ruling council, the Quetta Shura, who accuse Pakistan of hijacking the movement.

Mansour also has powerful rivals within the Taliban who are strongly opposed to peace talks with the Afghan government and some are unhappy at the thought he may have deceived them for more than a year about Omar’s death.

News of Mansour’s appointment came a day after the Taliban confirmed the death of their 20-year leader Omar, and as the Afghan government tries to jumpstart talks aimed at ending the 14-year insurgency.

Mansour referenced the talks in his audio message, saying any negotiations would be in “accordance with sharia”, it was not clear if he supported them.