Mullah Omar's death will set back peace

PHOTO: Reuters

On July 30, the Afghan Taliban officially confirmed the death of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the movement's reclusive leader. The confirmation comes two years after Mullah Omar died.

According to Pakistani and Afghan news reports, Mullah Omar died of tuberculosis in a Karachi hospital in 2013. Why has it taken so long for this news to get out?

The two most important actors who wished to suppress this information were the Afghan Taliban Shura, the movement's leadership council, based in Quetta, Pakistan, and Pakistan's security establishment. Both groups had great incentive to keep Mullah Omar's death from the public and, more importantly, from rank-and-file Taliban members.

Mullah Omar was much more than the Taliban's operational leader. In fact, he played almost no role in operational decision-making after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. His importance lay in his symbolism as the pure, incorruptible, pious and stalwart leader of the Taliban. He was the Emir al Mumineen, or leader of the faithful.

This was a title used by caliphs, historical Islamic state leaders. It meant Mullah Omar was viewed by the Taliban and al-Qaida as the leader of Muslims, although he never declared himself caliph. With such a positive myth built around him, Mullah Omar was the glue that held the fractious Taliban together.

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