Who was Mullah Omar?

In July 2015, Taliban spokesperson announced that the group’s leader Mullah Omar had died in 2013. His death shrouded in secrecy led to power struggle within the Taliban Militants.

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Narration: Different Afghan cities have been shaken by a wave of deadly suicide attacks in the past few weeks. Kabul plunged into stunned silence after it saw a barrage of suicide missions kill tens of people and wound many more in the Afghan capital. Observers, aligned with most Afghan officials and population, are confident that the terrorist attacks were engineered by the Taliban.

By forming its franchise in Afghanistan in early 2015, the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group, known also as ISIL, has become the latest security concern and threat for Kabul and the Afghans. Since then, the group has sponsored a number of terrorist attacks including a suicide bomb attack in the eastern Nangarhar provincial capital, Jalalabad. They say Daesh is building up on its manpower most primarily by having former Taliban forces sign up for the organization. Seeing the ever-more promising prospect for the peace talks between the Taliban and the government, and frustrated at not being able to hamper the talks, many Taliban members have left the group for Daesh which they find more attractive for its “aggressiveness.”

Why should the Taliban launch deadly suicide attacks now that the peace process is in full swing and most Afghan groupings are beginning to acknowledge the Taliban as a political entity endorsed by the constitution?

Most analysts say the violence is linked to the leadership dispute in the group after the recently-acknowledged death of ex-Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar. Taliban spokesman Zabihollah Mojahed announced Omar’s death on July 30, 2015.

Although governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan confirmed the death of the Taliban leader 12 days prior to Mojahed’s formal announcement, some political circles close to Pakistan’s intelligence agency (ISI) held Omar’s successor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, responsible for his death in 2013.

Through a statement, Zabihollah Mojahed announced Akhtar’s appointment as the new Taliban leader. At first, it was reported that the Taliban Supreme Council (The Shura Council) had endorsed the appointment. However, the Taliban top brass, as well as Omar’s close relatives, opposed the appointment of the new leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, and called for a Shura meeting for appointing a new leader for the movement. Akhtar’s opponents say his peace policies are in pursuit of Pakistan’s interests and do not recognize him as a proper successor to Mullah Omar.

Who was Mullah Omar, after all?

Narration: 1989, the Afghan Mujahedeen, backed by army support from western countries, managed to end more than a decade of Soviet occupation. After the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, the Mujahedeen confronted with the Afghan communist government in the same year. Following several years of civil war and siege of Kabul, Mujahedeen forces toppled the government in 1992. After the fall of Kabul, Dr. Najibollah, ousted Afghan president, fled to the United Nations Mission. This was the end of the communist government in the country.

Attempts to form a central government failed afterwards and a raft of infighting between former comrades started off. Because of its tribal ethnicity and certain geographical features, Afghanistan has never enjoyed a powerful central government and all former governments have been forced to interact with regional and local kingpins. Even during the fight against the communist government, more than 20 groups fought the occupying Soviet army. In fact, they fought both the Soviet army while being engaged in internal fights.

Attempts to form a central government led to the formation of the Islamic State of Afghanistan presided over by Burhanuddin Rabbani. Immediate armed reactions from various Mujahedeen groups ensued the state’s formation. The full-scale and lasting war between the groups became a civil war of attrition which allowed every Mujahed leader to reign over their regions.

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Narration: Under such circumstances in 1995, Mujahedeen forces in Kandahar attacked a goods consignment from Pakistan on its way to Turkmenistan. During the attack, a militia intervened to help save the convoy. The battle turned into a rout for Mujahedeen forces.

The militia leader, who introduced himself and his followers as religious students, said their intervention was aimed at ensuring security in the country. He said they would fight against former Mujahedeen forces' predatory activities. This was the first presence of the Taliban, literally meaning religious student, led by Mullah Mohammad Omar in Afghanistan.

According to some political analysts, Colonel Emam, a senior member of the Pakistani Intelligence Organization, was in charge of the Pakistani convoy.

By the time the Taliban took the lead in Afghanistan, Colonel Emam was appointed as the Pakistani Consul in Herat. He was a veteran of guerilla war against the Soviet union and the founder of the Taliban who was killed in 2012 by Pakistani Taliban. A decade of occupation and years of civil war made the Taliban look like the only enforcer of discipline and security in the country and received a nationwide welcome from the Afghans.

At first, the Taliban said it sought disarmament of the Mujahedeen to stop their bloodshed and ensure security so that the grounds would be paved for the return of Zaher Shah, former Afghan king. However, they displayed an unexpected façade once they took control of Kabul.

As a first move, Taliban agents attacked the United Nations Mission in Kabul, arrested Dr. Najibollah after 4 years of refuge, and executed him in broad daylight. They even disallowed holding of any ceremonies or funerals for his death.

Then, the Taliban called on hundreds of Afghan ullama to pledge allegiance to Mullah Omar as the leader of the group. Supported by Colonel Emam, Mulla Omar turned from a simple dweller who lived the simplest life to the most powerful figure across the country.

The United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were the first countries to acknowledge the Taliban government.

Once taking the rein in the country, the group embarked on fundamental social revisions: the national TV shut down and radio channels were only allowed to broadcast Azan (Islamic call for daily prayer) and news.

The Taliban also banned publication of books and newspapers except for its statements and some religious titles which were endorsed by the group.

Education was forbidden for girls and all girls' schools were shuttered.

Women and girls who failed to follow Taliban instructions were sentenced to severe punishments. Some teachers who held secret classes for girls were sentenced to death.

This is not all. The Taliban had a specific approach towards historical sites: destroying them. In March 2001, the group savagely detonated the Buddha statues by a decree from Mullah Omar saying all statutes around Afghanistan must be destroyed. The statues were two 6th-century monuments of standing Buddha’s carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan and were registered in the UNESCO world heritage.

Afghanistan is the world's biggest producer of opium. Prior to the reign of Taliban, trading and harvesting poppy was illegal in the country, but under the Taliban, trading opium became the first source of income for the group and most of the Afghan population became engaged in its farming and distribution. This made Afghanistan the world's biggest producer of other narcotics as well.

Having expanded its territories, Taliban forces invaded Mazar Sharif in 1998 and killed hundreds of Uzbek, Tajik and Hazareh nationals. During the invasion, Taliban forces also raided the Iranian consulate, captured and killed ten Iranian diplomats and a reporter based in the embassy.

Although the Taliban took a lot of flak for the move, it did not raise much reaction from the international community.

Following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York purportedly by Al-Qaida, and sheltering of Osama Bin Laden by Mullah Omar, the US took U-turn in its policies towards the Taliban. Some said Omar was compelled into providing shelter for Bin Laden. So far, very few interviews or statements have been directly published from Omar in the world and almost all of his statements are related by his deputies and spokespersons in foreign media.

After 9/11, the US gave the Taliban an ultimatum to hand over Bin Laden a demand that was rejected outright.

In October 2001, the US with its allies attacked Afghanistan and downed the Taliban state.

By the fall of Talibani state, Mullah Omar and the group’s senior commanders fled to Pakistan and the US appointed Hamid Karzai to form an interim government in the country.

After the Taliban, Afghanistan was left with millions of illiterate youths who lacked the least technical and professional skills to take part in the country's reconstruction. Most of the country's schools and universities were closed under the Taliban.

Almost all academic and professional elites fled the country under the Taliban and are unlikely to return. Most of the country's administrative, medical and health infrastructures were ruined under the Taliban and it costs Afghanistan dearly to restore them.

That said, having soaked the international markets with Afghan narcotics, now drug dealers and producers have targeted the domestic market for selling their items. Today, Afghanistan has the highest rate of addiction in its population.

After 2001, Mulla Omar was rarely heard of in public; he only released audio messages from time to time with the last one in 2005. Since then, most Taliban commanders engaged themselves with different businesses in Pakistan. However, Taliban fighters keep undermining Afghanistan security of the country by their sporadic raids.

Ever since Ashraf Ghani took office in 2015, he took a milder stance towards the Taliban and called for serious peace talks with the group.

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor has endorsed the peace talks. The Eid al-Fitr message, believed to be from Mulla Omar, contained statements about peace. The message, however, had little credibility among the Taliban commanders because they said the wording of its text was not compatible with that of Mullah's former speeches.

The aides of the ex-Taliban leader say Akhtar is not a suitable successor to him. They say Mullah Omar was a shy, kindhearted, phlegmatic personality which contradicts his public face as the leader of a brutal, extremist Taliban.

Who was Mullah Omar? 

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