Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Who are the leaders of the Afghan Taliban?

Mullah Omar's Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan issued a statement on Friday condemning President Obama's decision to offer money to buy off fighters from the organisation. The statement, which predictably scoffed at the idea and pointed out that it had been tried and failed before, was not signed by Mullah Omar (pictured above), but by his deputy, Mullah Barodar Akhund.
This in itself is not surprising. Mullah Barodar (sometimes spelt Barader, but whose real name is Abdul Ghani) in much more involved in the day-to-day running of the military campaign against Coalition forces in Afghanistan than Mullah Omar, who is hidden from public sight.
However, it does raise the question of who is running the Islamic Emirate and who are the members of the so-called the Quetta Shura, based in the Baluchi city of that name.
In recent weeks it has become clear that some US commanders are in favour of using drone attacks to kill shura members, even though they have previously enjoyed close relations with the Pakistani military and intelligence services and that there have so far been no drone attacks in Baluchistan.
The answer to who is in the Quetta Shura is not easy to find. When US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W Patterson provided a list of members of the Quetta Shura living in Pakistan (drawn up by US and Afghan intelligence officials) to the Pakistani government at the end of September, Pakistan’s chief military spokesman, Maj-Gen Athar Abbas, responded by saying that "From our judgment, there are no Taliban in Balochistan".
Asked about the names provided by Afghan and US officials, he said: "Six to 10 of them have been killed, two are in Afghanistan, and two are insignificant. When people call Mullah Omar the mayor of Quetta, that is incorrect."
So what do we know about the Quetta Shura? It is known internally as the Rahbari shura and is made up of at least 12 and maybe as many as 20 members. Mullah Omar does not attend, so Mullah Barodar is the most senior person present. The list handed to the Pakistani authorities has not been made public, but some of its members are known anyway as they date back to the time before the September 2001 attacks on America.
In 2003, at the time of its creation, the rahbari shura was thought to include: Jalaluddin Haqqani, Saifur Rahman Mansoor, Mullah Dadullah (replaced by Mullah Bakht), Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, Mullah Obaidullah, Hafiz Abdul Majeed, Mullah Mohammad Rasul, Mullah Barodar, and Mullah Abdur Razzaq Akhundzada.
Thomas Ruttig, in his report, The Other Side, written for the Afghan Analysts Network, and previously discussed on this blog, suggests that the Quetta shura also includes military commanders from the regions, including Taliban founder member Hafez Majid, Serajuddin Haqqani and Akhtar Mohammad Mansur.
Jeffrey Dressler, in his excellent report Securing Helmand, also previously reviewed here, says there are two main leadership bodies - the rahbari shura and the majlis al-shura or consultative council, with 13 members whose job is to advise the leadership. Dressler days that Mullah Barodar is in charge, particularly since the arrest of Mullah Obaidullah in March 2007 and the death of Mullah Dadullah in May 2007.
In addition he names Mullah Abdullah Zakir (real name Abdul Qayoum Zakir), a former Guantanamo inmate released in 2007, and Mullah Naim Barich, former Taliban minister for civil aviation and transport, as well as Mullah Mansur (see above).
On Monday, the authorities in Pakistan issued wanted posters of the leadership of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and offered huge rewards for their capture. Strange that in Afghanistan the leadership of the insurgency continues to be such a mystery.

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