Spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid announced this morning that the Taliban will franchise tag their rising star Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour. He will move up the roster to fill the leadership position of Mullah Omar, whose confirmed death drastically altered the organization’s depth charts. Mansour is coming off an impressive five-year stint as Deputy Leader. During that time, he handled increasingly complex administrative responsibilities. His production culminated in a fighting season with the highest Afghan security force and civilian casualty rates of any of the past six years. Using the tag aims to establish short-term stability after the unexpected turnover at the position.
The latest reports confirm that the tag will be an exclusive deal. “The exclusivity is key, since it will keep Mansour off the market away from any other interested parties,” observed analyst Henry Pond. Even before the loss of Mullah Omar, other networks were looking to challenge the Taliban’s hold on the Afghanistan and Pakistan region. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s front office has issued warnings that the Taliban “cannot be trusted.” Former Afghan Taliban member Mawlavi Shahidullah Shahid and Pakistani Taliban commander Hafez Sayed Khan Orakzai both recently signed with the Islamic State. “It’s a business,” Pond noted. “It depends on what drives you — some people follow the money.” Though the tag will protect the Taliban from any external interest in Mansour, there is no guarantee of continued internal loyalty.
Some figures in the Taliban are challenging the appropriateness of the decision. Despite his five-year numbers, anonymous sources question whether Mansour is mature enough for the top job. They fear that continued association with former classmates from the Haqqania madrassa may distract Mansour in his new role. Others believe there may have been better-suited candidates. Indeed, the move raises questions about the future status of two other prominent Taliban contributors, Mullah Yaqoub and Mullah Zakir. When asked whether the two were next in line for a deal, spokesman Mujahid responded, “We have to remain conscious of resource planning. We’ll try to take care of them after the next fighting season.” Some outside the organization have suggested that the Taliban should try to lock up Mansour, Yaqoub, and Zakir for a ‘win now’ strategy.