The exact circumstances surrounding the reports of Mullah Omar’s death remain unclear, and some facts remain uncertain. It does seem likely, however, that the central power structure of the Taliban covered up his death in 2013 in an effort to preserve its influence, motivate Taliban fighters, and take advantage of the loyalty oath that those who join the Taliban took to Omar.
It also seems clear that—in spite of denials of Omar’s death by those who were around him in “Taliban central”—Omar did not endorse peace negotiations and has not been actively planning Taliban military campaigns for some time. The fact that Omar only gave a “post-deathbed endorsement” of peace negotiations seems to have led to Taliban statements that Omar never did endorse such negotiations on July 29—only a day after the Afghan government publicly announced Omar’s death.
In any case, the public confirmation of Omar’s death raises three key questions for Afghanistan:
- What does this mean in terms of the leadership of the insurgency against the Afghan government;
- How will it affect the course of the fighting, and
- How will it affect any future peace negotiations?
In practice, the real answers to all three questions will only become apparent with time. It is easy to speculate and to suggest that Omar’s death will lead to major power struggles, to a weakening of the insurgent military effort, or to the success or failure of peace negotiations.
Predicting a future has never made one happen. The most that can be said at this point is that the future importance of the top level leadership of the Taliban must be kept in careful perspective, that the Taliban and other insurgents are making major military gains and may continue to do so, and that peace negotiations are a two-edged sword and can easily become an extension of war by other means.