LAHORE (Web Desk) – Sirajuddin Haqqani, an Afghan guerrilla commander, is likely to succeed Mullah Mansour, who was killed in a US drone strike in Balochistan on Saturday.
Experts say it could be a “nightmare scenario” for the US, as Haqqani may prove to be an even fiercer foe of the beleaguered Afghan government forces and their western allies than his predecessor.
After the assassination of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed hope for Afghanistan’s long-stalled peace talks.
“Peace is what we want. Mansour was a threat to that effort. He also was directly opposed to peace negotiations and to the reconciliation process,” Kerry said during his announcement Monday that Mansour was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan. “It is time for Afghans to stop fighting and to start building a real future together.”
President Obama has also said that the death marked “an important milestone.”
Mansour had demanded the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from war-torn Afghanistan and the release of all Taliban prisoners as a prerequisite for negotiations with the government. He also simultaneously increased attacks inside Afghanistan to pressure President Ashraf Ghani to meet his demands.
However, some observers believe that the prospects of peace in Afghanistan are bleaker after Mansour’s death.
Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, believes Mullah Mansour’s killing would only worsen the prospects of the talks. “With the Taliban facing another drawn out succession process, and also facing questions about the safety of its sanctuaries, issues of peace and reconciliation will be the last thing on the group’s mind,” Kugelman told Deutsche Welle.
“In the long term, questions about peace will depend on who Mansour’s successor is. Mansour had originally been seen as a moderate willing to pursue peace, but clearly the US had come to a very different conclusion in recent weeks,” the expert added.
The person most likely to succeed Mansour, according to observers, Sirajuddin Haqqani is one of the deadliest militants in region.
Haqqani alias Khalifa, who has a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head, is widely seen by U.S. and Afghan officials as the most dangerous warlord in the Taliban insurgency, responsible for the most bloody attacks, including one last month in Kabul in which 64 people were killed.
His father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was a leader of the mujahideen who fought the Soviet troops that invaded Afghanistan in 1979. A former U.S. Congressman, Charlie Wilson, once called Jalaluddin “goodness personified” and he was held in such high esteem he visited the White House when Ronald Reagan was President.
His son is seen as even more ruthless. Sirajuddin Haqqani became one of two deputy Taliban commanders last year, integrating his feared militant faction, known as the Haqqani network, closely into the Afghan Taliban insurgency.
The Taliban now control more territory than they have done since their ouster from government in 2001, and hopes of peace talks that the United States was pushing have all but collapsed as the bloodshed has increased.
The Haqqani network is thought to have introduced suicide bombing to Afghanistan and the U.S. State Department calls it the most lethal insurgent group targeting U.S.-led and government forces in Afghanistan. It labels Sirajuddin Haqqani a “specially designated global terrorist”.
But it is by no means certain Haqqani would be named Taliban leader.
According to a senior member of the Taliban shura, the next leader is likely to be either Mansour’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, or a member of the family of Mansour’s predecessor, Mullah Omar.
Washington considers the Haqqani network a terrorist group, and recently it urged Islamabad to launch a military operation against it. The Pakistani authorities – particularly the country’s military establishment – have been reluctant to act against the Haqqanis, even though Pakistan no longer believes in separating the “good” Taliban from the “bad”.
Islamabad says it is willing to cooperate. It denies claims of interference in Afghanistan and says it wants to facilitate the peace process. Despite a round of successful peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, hosted by Pakistan, there hasn’t been a breakthrough on this front either. Afghan President Ghani recently slammed Islamabad for its apparent unwillingness to cooperate in the negotiations.
‘Celebrations in Afghanistan’
On Sunday, May 22, Pakistan’s foreign ministry condemned the drone attack on its territory. The attack near the Pakistani-Afghan border marked the most significant US incursion on Pakistani soil since the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
“This is a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the press while on a visit to London on Sunday.
However, people in Afghanistan are celebrating the news of Mullah Mansour’s death and are hoping it would lead to stability and peace in their war-ravaged country.
The country’s intelligence agency, NDS, confirmed Mansour’s death with pride. Last week, former war lord Gulbudin Hekmatyar inked a peace deal with the Afghan government. So many people believe the things are moving in a right direction.
But some analysts are apprehensive about the situation, saying that Mansour’s death could throw Afghanistan into a deeper conflict.