Is Mullah Omar dead? Guessing game on, again

Mullah Omar

Is the one-eyed Mullah Omar, the architect of the first Taliban government in 1996 and the world’s most hunted terrorist leaders, dead? There have been speculation off and on, but this time there is an added gravitas about the claims made about the Taliban leader’s death.

In a startling revelation, sources in the Afghan government and intelligence agencies have told BBC that it has received reports that the Taliban supreme leader died more than two years back, but are waiting for further details.

A spokesperson for the Taliban said the group would issue a statement on the matter soon.

The Afghan government is probing new reports about the Taliban leader’s death. “As soon as we get any more authentication… we’re going to let the media and the people of Afghanistan know about that,” Sayed Zafar Hashemi, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said.  

Mullah Omar, popularly known as the one-eyed leader who lost his eye in one of his many battles, led the Taliban to victory in the aftermath of the withdrawal of Soviet Union from Afghanistan. In 1996 Taliban claimed to be the legitimate government in Afghanistan and he led the government.

However, after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Mullah Omar and the Taliban government he led were overthrown by the US-led forces. Ever since, Mullah Omar has not been much in the public eye. Reports of his death have been surfacing from time to time, but there wasn’t any strong evidence to prove he was dead. This time the reports are being taken more seriously because of the confirmation of his death coming from the Pakistan authorities, who reportedly shared the information with Afghanistan government authorities.

The US State Department had publicised a reward of USD 10 million for catching the reclusive Taliban leader and this had prompted him to stay away from the public gaze. In recent past, there have been reports of many defections from Taliban to ISIL, and one of the major reasons for this was the lack of clarity on whether Mullah Omar was alive, dead or incapacitated. His group also split into different factions, thereby weakening the Taliban, according to some reports. There were messages put up on Taliban’s website which claimed Mullah Omar was ready for peace talks with the government, but there was no audio or video to back it up and many feel statements are being made just using his name.

Although more details are awaited, Mullah Omar’s alleged death has the potential to impact the ongoing power games in Afghanistan.