NEW YORK: (The News) As the controversy about Mullah Mohammad Omar’s mysterious death refuses to die down, more and more Taliban-linked militant groups, which had been a part and parcel of the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban, have questioned the leadership of the newly appointed Taliban supreme leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, while asking him to spell out the circumstances which led to the demise of their ameer.
While Mullah Omar’s family members have simply rejected the appointment of the new Taliban ameer and the head of the Afghan Taliban’s political Shura, Syed Mohammad Tayab Agha, has resigned over Mullah Akhatr’s Mansoor’s decision to hide the death of their ameer for two years, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has accused the Taliban of deceit and collusion, asking them to tell the truth about the circumstances of its late leader’s death. The al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked IMU, which had been operating from the Waziristan region till the launching of the Pakistani military operation in June 2014, has already been declared a terrorist organisation by the US State Department and is also banned in Central Asian States and Russia. The IMU has been an integral part of the Pakistani as well as the Afghan Taliban which had provided it sanctuary in Afghanistan during Mullah Mohammad Omar’s rule between 1996 and 2001.
Till the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the IMU stayed in Afghanistan and aided the Taliban’s push to capture the remaining five percent of Afghanistan that was still outside its control. However, as the US-led allied forces attacked Afghanistan and bombed the Taliban militia with daisy cutters, the IMU fighters crossed over the Pak-Afghan border to enter Pakistan along with most of the Afghan Taliban commanders and leaders. The Waziristan region was their next sanctuary from where the IMU kept operating till 2014 under the protection and guidance of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. But after the Pakistani military launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb, many of them left for Afghanistan again to fight alongside the Afghan Taliban, who were apparently headed by Mullah Mohammad Omar.
However, the sudden announcement by the Afghan government that Mullah Omar had died more than two years ago, and the Taliban spokesman’s stance that he only died two weeks ago, has left the IMU leadership flabbergasted, like several other Taliban-linked groups. In a statement, the IMU spokesman has questioned details surrounding Taliban’s confirmation of Omar’s death. Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said on July 30 that Mullah Omar suffered from a long-term illness and only succumbed in the past two weeks. The message also said that Omar never left Afghanistan for one day during the 14 years since the September 2001 terrorist attacks. Both the statements were questionable and have already been questioned by the IMU on August 2, saying: The Taliban’s explanation of Mullah Omar’s death cannot be trusted. For 14 long years, lies about our beloved Commander Mullah Omar’s life and death have been given to the community of Islam, and the latest statements about the circumstances of his death are continuation of such lies.
The IMU statement, as reported by US-based web newspaper The Long War Journal, specifically questioned claimed that Mullah Mohammad Omar died after two weeks of hospitalisation, and demanded full and detailed explanations of the circumstances of his death. The IMU expressed the hope that all its questions would be fully answered. As no explanation came from the Taliban, the IMU leadership decided to pledge loyalty to the Islamic State led by Commander Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi. In a video posted by the IMU-controlled Furqon TV, IMU spiritual leader, Sheikh Muhammad Ali, has been shown standing in front of the black IS flag and pledging loyalty to the organisation. The rest of the video showed IMU jehadis carrying out attacks on Afghan army posts in Zabul province, which borders Pakistan.
Usman Ghazi, the IMU’s leader since 2012, has also been featured in the video clip. This is the first time that the IMU’s central leadership has formally sworn allegiance to the Islamic. But it is not the first report of the IMU-linked militants allying themselves with Daesh. In September 2014, Ghazi pledged support to Islamic State leader Baghdadi, criticising Mullah Omar, saying he had not been seen in public since 2001. “On behalf of members of our Islamic Movement, I herewith announce to the world that we are siding with the Islamic Caliphate,” the statement read. Ghazi stopped short of pledging oath of allegiance to Daesh. A few months later, in March 2015, a group of Uzbek fighters in Afghanistan, announced their loyalty to Daesh. But their move was not endorsed by Usman Ghazi.
The Afghan Taliban, who used to consider mullah Omar as their ameer, have publicly condemned Baghdadi for waging a parallel insurgency in Afghanistan. In a letter to the IS leader Baghdadi in June 2015, the Taliban insisted that jehad against the Americans and their allies must be conducted under one flag and one leadership. “The Islamic Emirate of Taliban does not consider the multiplicity of jehadi ranks beneficial either for jehad or for Muslims,” said the letter which was signed by then deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Akhtar Mansoor who is now the ameer of the Afghan Taliban. “Your decisions made from a distance will result in the IS losing support of religious scholars, mujahedin…and in order to defend its achievements the Islamic Emirate will be forced to react,” it added. The letter, published on the Taliban’s website in Pashto and reproduced by The Long War Journal, did not elaborate on its threat.
Security analysts are of the view that the IMU’s move to abandon the Afghan Taliban and join hands with Daesh would come as a serious blow to the military might of the Afghan militia given the fact that there are over 5,000 Uzbek fighters who are equipped with more advanced weaponry including night vision goggles and a high level of training. And that’s why the IMU has been largely considered to be the key to the Afghan Taliban’s strength and resilience in Afghanistan.