PESHAWAR (Reuters) - Rival factions of the Afghan Taliban agreed to stop deadly infighting, officials said, but tensions remained over the status of new leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, who has not been seen since reportedly being shot last month.
Leadership of the Taliban has been in dispute since the confirmation last July of the death of the hard-line Islamist insurgency’s founder, Mullah Mohammad Omar, nearly two years previously.
Despite leadership disputes, the Taliban have made big advances this year, inflicting heavy casualties on Afghan forces fighting largely on their own since the withdrawal of most foreign combat troops last year.
On Friday, representatives of a splinter group headed by Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund calling itself the ulema, which rejects Mansour’s authority, traveled to an undisclosed location to meet the exiled insurgency leadership headed by Mansour, according to two senior officials from both camps.
“We agreed on ceasefire and prisoners’ swap, but the ulema were not given access to Mansour,” Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, Rasool’s deputy, told Reuters by telephone.
Niazi said the delegation was only able to meet Mansour’s deputy, Haibatullah Akhund, who told the representatives that from now on, Mullah Mansour would not meet people because of security issues.
The secrecy surrounding Mullah Mansour, and its similarity to the Taliban public narrative pushed by Mansour for two years while Mullah Omar was actually dead, has raised new suspicions among the dissident Taliban commanders.
“Like many other people, we also believe that Mullah Mansour is dead and that’s why his deputy Sheikh Haibatullah refused access to the ulema council to him,” Niazi told Reuters.
Reporting by Jibran Ahmad; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Dominic Evans