The mystery deepens
The death of Umar Mansoor, who had been on 13 July last year, in Nangarhar, was also confirmed by the commander of the Resolute Support Mission Gen John Nicholsan, saying that that Mansoor was taken down by an American drone
Brigadier (R) Asad Munir believes that the only way the embattled Taliban factions can regroup is if a ‘90s like’ civil war erupts in Afghanistan
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) Chief Umar Khalid Khorasani was killed in a drone strike on 18 October. Or so said an AFP report the next day that quoted a JuA spokesman.
Further confusion ensued, when following the reports the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) also confirmed the death of their former leader Umar Mansoor, and stated that Usman Mansoor will be his successor.
The death of Umar Mansoor, who had been on 13 July last year, in Nangarhar, was also confirmed by the commander of the Resolute Support Mission Gen John Nicholsan, saying that that Mansoor was taken down by an American drone.
Whether it was the reports of JuA chief’s death that triggered the TTP announcement isn’t certain. For, images of Umar Mansoor’s corpse have also been shared online recently. What however is undoubted is that the TTP chief is dead.
The same can’t be said with similar certainty about the JuA chief.
A day after the AFP report citing the JuA camp’s admission of Khorasani’s death, the group issued a formal letter that negated the news. Furthermore, a statement under Khorasani’s name on the group’s official Telegram account was released, categorically denying his death.
To add to the mystery, the statement not only confirmed the death of Umar Mansoor, but also eulogised him.
“Mansoor was one of the great warriors and knights and the Chief of Military Commission of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar and the Ameer of Durae Adamkhail.”
“This tragic loss is insurmountable to cover. This loss is a source of grief for Muslims in general and for mujahedeen in particular. The honourable Shaheed was a core in the ongoing jihad,” the statement attributed to Khorasani further read.
“Our leaders would be the first to shed their lives for the supreme cause of Sharia.”
However, despite the tribute to Mansoor and categorical denial of his own death, there is little evidence that supports the claims that Khorasani is still alive. For instance, there is no video, image or recording sent out by JuA to prove their claims.
A senior security official deployed in the region suggests that Khorasani might actually be alive despite the lack of proof.
“These Taliban factions are all in a phase of regrouping, after the battering they’ve received in recent weeks. Khorasani’s death, especially when coupled with the confirmation of Mansour’s killing, would’ve been catastrophical for the Taliban umbrella, and the JuA mightn’t even have bothered with a fake denial in that case,” he says.
Khorasani was made the TTP Mohmand chief under Baitullah Mehsud. He then went on to form the JuA after differences emerged with Mullah Fazlullah as its chief, prompting the group’s alliance with ISIS.
Last month Afghan government told Pakistan that the abduction of two Pakistani diplomats near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, earlier this year, was orchestrated by TTP following Fazlullah’s orders.
“Despite their mutual differences, Khorasani might just become the next Fazlullah,” says a senior intelligence official. “In that the brand name is actually bigger than the actual name, and much needed to keep the faction alive. No one has actually heard from Fazlullah was quite some time – have we?”
The intelligence official maintains that regardless of the lack of evidence of whether or not he’s alive, the TTP is firmly led by Fazlullah. However, he adds that the rise of ISIS along the Af-Pak border in the Khorasan region, means that groups are gravitating towards them.
Brigadier (R) Asad Munir, who has served in the region, says ISIS might be interested in the region because they are suffering heavy defeats in the Middle East. However, he adds there is no functional involvement of the ISIS in this region.
“These Taliban factions paying allegiance to the Islamic State are just using the name. They don’t have any logistical support. But the security forces have to vigilantly monitor those IS operatives that are being expelled from Iraq and Syria, who might join these groups alone the Af-Pak border,” he says.
Munir warns that if alive Khorasani won’t compromise on any deals that he might be offered.
“Khorasani is a core jihadist and won’t compromise on anything less than the establishment of a caliphate in Pakistan, which is why he has been against negotiations from the get-go.”
Michael Kugelman, the Asia Program Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, says increased targeting of JuA leaders could embolden the group and lead it to scale up its atrocities.
“The JuA faction of TTP stands apart from the parent group in its incessant focus on civilians and other soft targets. More broadly, JuA is a more hardline expression of the TTP, and that’s saying something, given the horrific things the TTP has done over the years. The JuA remains the most maximalist faction of TTP, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” he says.
Brigadier (R) Asad Munir believes that the only way the embattled Taliban factions can regroup is if a ‘90s like’ civil war erupts in Afghanistan.
“If matters are dominated by warlords then even the Pakistan Taliban would get a boost, because recruitment would become easy for them. But as things this is no way near the TTP that it was.”
However, what remains increasingly unclear is who is at the reins of the Taliban factions in Pakistan.