Once a leader is killed, another one steps in. Obama’s deadly drones armed with Hellfire missiles killed Mullah Omar’s successor, the undisputed leader of the Taliban. Akhtar Mansour had ruled the militias of the black turban for little less than a year. Nevertheless, scholars of the Koran immediately filled the void. Thus, forty-eight hours after the news about Shura’s death, a new leader was crowned: Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, a prominent judge in religious matters, who had been chosen as deputy leader by Akhtar Mansour, the Taliban leader killed on May 21 by a U.S. drone in Pakistan. The choice of the leader has been the result of a series of meetings between the leaders of the group in Quetta, Pakistan. The decision was quick, probably to prevent new divisions within the movement.
Haibatullah Akhundzada, a respected and authoritative religious man, Mullah Omar’s former confidant, can boast excellent mediating qualities and roots that connect him to Kandahar, the cradle of the Taliban “old guard”. His leadership will have undergo its first trial on the issue of negotiations with Kabul, shaken by Mansour’s death. Among other things, the new guide will seek to strengthen its power by finding an agreement with another Taliban leader who can boast a strong following. In fact, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has taken his father’s place in 2005, becoming head of the Jalaluddin Haqqani network, the network of Islamists that operates mainly in the border provinces of Afghanistan and Pakistan and claims headship.
The offspring of the Haqqani family is at the head of a true financial empire. He is merciless on the battlefield and a skilled negotiator who boasts strong relationships with the Pakistani secret services, which will not refuse to “support” him, of course. So far, the scenario of succession, but Mansour’s assassination seems to be yet another own goal in Washington’s strategy on the Afghan-Middle East chessboard. In fact, the death of Mullah Omar’s successor might open the door to Afghanistan to Isis, thus providing a new shelter to Caliph Al Baghdadi, in trouble in Iraq and Syria. Moreover, the group has already penetrated in some jihadist circles of this region. In November, Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost, a former Guantanamo detainee, was appointed interim emir of Khorasan, and in summer a group of al-Qaeda militants close to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hizb-e-Islami (one of the first militias in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet occupation in the 70’s) has switched sides and pledged allegiance to Isis.
Then there is another reason, of theological nature, which would explain a possible “coup” against the Taliban. Until the day when his death was announced, Mullah Omar had been the only “Amir al-Mumineen” ( “Commander of the Faithful”) in nthe jihadist sphere capable of challenging the creeds of the newly-Caliph of Mosul, whereas al Zawahiri, on the contrary, has never boasted titles or awards, renewing from time to time his support to the Afghan Emirate. In fact, he wrote a letter to al-Baghdadi some time ago, warning him not to set foot in Afghanistan. “The jihad against the Americans and their allies should be conducted under one sole flag,” he said. Theirs and Mullah Omar’s, of course. A threat spread in the same days when Taliban militants clashed with Isis east of the Afghan region. Mansour deployed over one thousand men, the most prepared to fight the Daesh militias in Afghanistan.
The difference between the two groups in Afghanistan is a one-way rivalry at root: Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the past have always shown themselves willing to compromise with their domestic enemies, despite their ideological and religious differences. One of the most eloquent examples were the disputes with the Deobandi School, which were set aside. However, Isis thinks in other terms: the global jihad is a phenomenon closely related to the state-building process wanted by al Baghdadi, which is the specular reflection of the imperialist goal. The Taliban want to return to power in Kabul; they have no expansionist ambitions.
A slap in the face of American politics. The choice made by the U.S. will only create further chaos in the Afghan situation, where the government has no control over the country, except for a few big cities. The Taliban have shown noteworthy military skills when they sized Kunduz last autumn. Encouraged by success, Mansour had opened a narrow window of opportunity to engage in negotiations with the government in Kabul. Now, everything has been destabilized again. The disappearance of Mansour, head of the Taliban, but also Isis’ greatest enemy in the area, along with the exit strategy launched by NATO in Afghanistan and the shaky situation in Libya and Syria, can contribute to Isis’ expansion into a region where 15 years later, after a massive international intervention, the goal of eliminating terrorism has not yet been achieved.