Officials say leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour returned to Afghanistan after six-month spell in Pakistan
Taliban leaders used their first public gathering of the year in Afghanistan to swear loyalty to the military commander, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in a display of strength in the capital.
Abdul Manan, the Taliban spokesman, said Mansour is back in Afghanistan and that all the victorious Islamist militants who fought US troops in the past year are with him.
At Saturday’s gathering, the highest-ranking Taliban commanders and activists pledged allegiance to Mansour, prompting speculation that he might be trying to establish a formal government-in-exile, similar to one he set up in 2011, a plan which was eventually halted by US-led forces.
“Mullah Mansour is at his headquarters in Afghanistan and the ceremony has been successful,” said Mr Manan. He added that Mansour issued a media statement, condemning the Afghan state security forces, as “killers and puppets” of the US.
In an odd twist, Mansour ordered all the Taliban to stop using the name “Islamic Emirate” that he gave the group after taking power, fearing it would only fan the flames of division. Mansour instead opted for “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan”.
Senior Taliban figures laughed off Mansour’s wishes. “We will still use that name,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the militant group.
Taliban take centre stage at Islamabad gathering Read more
On Saturday, large banners with images of Mansour adorned the wall and buildings around Kabul University, a small stone’s throw from the gathering. The image of Mullah Omar, who founded the Taliban movement in 1988 and ruled Afghanistan with an iron fist for nine years, was conspicuously absent from the campaign.
Several Taliban leaders said that Mansour and Omar have not been in touch for some time, however. One senior Taliban member said Mansour is reluctant to be embroiled in a political rivalry which could pit him against other senior leaders of the Islamic Emirate.
In December, the US and Afghanistan’s intelligence service accused Mansour of directing a coalition of insurgents who attacked Kabul’s diplomatic quarter last month.
The Afghan government has repeatedly pressed Pakistan to apprehend the leading Taliban figures, including Mullah Omar, whom they say remains the real leader of the organisation.
Afghan officials blame Mansour for failing to rein in supporters who could attack the capital, which has been repeatedly targeted in the past year.
Pakistani officials rejected the allegations, saying that no senior Taliban had fled into Pakistan. The Afghan military said that Mansour has fled to Iran.