UPDATE: After a day of talking to U.S. and Afghan officials, it's clear that nobody has any confirmation that Mullah Omar is dead. More reporting to come...
Afghan television is broadcasting the news that Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, has been killed in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan.
The news has not been confirmed, although the Afghan intelligence agency, the NDS, is holding a briefing at 2 P.M.
However, if confirmed, this news will undoubtedly have a stunning effect on current U.S. efforts to get peace negotiations going between the Afghan government and the Taliban. These efforts are heating up, and Amb. Marc Grossman, successor to the late Amb. Richard Holbrooke as the special State Dept. emissary getting these talks going, is in Islamabad right now.
The impact of Mullah Omar’s death, if confirmed, will depend heavily on the circumstances of his death.
It seems hard to imagine that Pakistan would have carried out a strike on Mullah Omar. Pakistan’s intelligence service has been using Mullah Omar as a card, angling to become the godfather who negotiates a peace between the Afghan Taliban and Kabul. All the Afghan Taliban leadership is believed to be living now in Pakistan, mostly in the cities of Quetta and Karachi. The Pakistani goal has been to ensure that the Afghan Taliban, whom they think they can manipulate, have a powerful position in any future Afghan government. So why would they kill Mullah Omar?
One thesis, is that Pakistan might have sought to punish him for permitting Taliban intermediaries to start contacts with U.S. officials, without Pakistani permission. Rumors have been circulating that such meetings have been taking place outside Pakistan in Qatar and elsewhere. Former Taliban in Kabul have told me that the Afghan Taliban leadership were anxious to get out from the control of the Pakistani intelligence service.
“If this news is true,” I was told by Waheed Mozhda, a former Taliban official who is now an author and commentator in Kabul.” I don’t know who can take his place. If he was killed inside Pakistan, this means the Afghan Taliban leadership will go out of Pakistan, because they know their freedom is impossible in this country. Otherwise the Pakistanis will arrest them all.”
If Mullah Omar is dead, this might impel the Afghan Taliban leadership council towards talks, lessen the movement’s value to Pakistan, and discourage its fighters. Or, conversely, a leaderless body might be able to take such a decision, and a fractured Taliban might try to heat up the struggle in Afghanistan and try for revenge.