Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai -- a senior Taliban leader who served as Afghanistan’s health minister during the militant group’s rule in the country -- was named the acting chief of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, Afghanistan’s Khaama Press reported Wednesday. The report comes just days after Tayeb Agha -- the former head of the Qatar office -- resigned over the appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as the successor after the death of leader Mullah Omar.
“I and other members of the political office of the Islamic emirate declare allegiance to the honorable Mullah Akhtar Mansoor,” Stanekzai, who was formerly a member of the Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami -- an Afghan mujahideen group that fought against Soviet forces in the 1980s -- said in a statement accessed by Khaama Press. “We consider this decision in accordance with Islamic Sharia and will follow his instructions.”
Stanekzai’s appointment comes amid an ongoing struggle within the Taliban, following a power vacuum created by Omar’s death. While Omar is believed to have died in 2013 -- under unknown circumstances -- the group kept his demise secret for nearly two years. Senior Taliban leaders have accused his successor of deliberately keeping the news secret so that he could tighten his grip over the group.
“Now, as the leader is appointed outside the country and from the people who are residing outside the country is also considered as a great historical mistake,” Agha said in a statement Monday, referring to Mansoor’s appointment by the Taliban leadership council based in Quetta, Pakistan. Mansoor himself is believed to be close to Pakistan’s intelligence services.
“In order to live with a clear conscience and abide by the principles of Mullah Omar, I decided that my work as head of the political office has ended,” Agha, who is believed to have played a key role in negotiating the 2014 release of American Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl captured by the Haqqani Network in 2009, added.
Opposition to Mullah Mansoor’s appointment has come mainly from Mullah Omar’s brother Mullah Abdul Manan Hotak, his oldest son Mullah Muhammad Yaqoub, and senior leaders who allege the Taliban Supreme Council (Shura) was not consulted before the appointment.
Infighting within the Taliban has also cast doubts over peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban that began early July. The talks were originally scheduled to resume last week.
However, Mansoor has distanced himself from reports of any “reconciliation dialogue” with Kabul. In an audio message released Saturday, he said the Taliban would “continue jihad until we bring an Islamic rule in the country” and dismissed the peace talks as “propaganda campaigns by the enemy.”