Mullah Omar’s family rejects new Taliban leader

The Afghan government has addressed the growing leadership crisis in the Taliban for the first time

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The family of deceased Taliban leader Mullah Omar has refused to pledge allegiance to his successor, calling on religious scholars to settle a growing rift within insurgent ranks over the power transition.

Mullah Akhtar Mansour was announced as the new Taliban leader on Friday following the announcement of the death in 2013 of Mullah Omar, who led the militant movement for some 20 years.

But splits immediately emerged between Mansour and those who challenged his appointment, including the late leader's son Yakoub and his brother, Mullah Abdul Manan.

"Our family... has not declared allegiance to anyone amid these differences," Manan said in an audio message released Sunday, without naming Mansour.

"We want the ulema (religious scholars) to resolve the differences rather than declaring allegiance to any side," said the audio message, which Taliban sources confirmed was from Manan.

Mansour on Saturday called for unity in the Taliban in his first audio message since becoming head of the group as it faces its biggest leadership crisis in recent years.

His comments were apparently aimed at averting a factional split at a time of growing discord over the direction of peace talks with the Afghan government.

Yakoub and several other members of the Taliban's ruling council walked out of the meeting at which Mansour was declared leader, refusing to pledge allegiance to him, a Taliban source told AFP.

"Part of the insurgency is troubled and needs answers from Mansour and his allies: why did they hide Mullah Omar's death all these years? Did they deceive us by putting out fake statements in his name just to serve their own interests?" he said.

Many also oppose what they see as Pakistan's attempt to force the Taliban into direct peace talks with the Afghan government.

Mansour and his two newly named deputies -- influential religious leader Haibatullah Akhundzada and Sirajuddin Haqqani -- are all seen as close to the Pakistani military establishment, which has historically nurtured and supported the Taliban.

Mansour is seen as a pragmatist and a proponent of peace talks, raising hopes that the power transition could pave the way for an end to Afghanistan's long and bloody war.

The announcement of Omar's death, however, cast doubt over the fragile peace process, forcing the postponement of a second round of talks that had been expected in Pakistan on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Afghan government addressed the growing leadership crisis in the Taliban for the first time Monday, saying it will not deal with the militant group separately from other "armed opposition" in the country.

The statement from President Ashraf Ghani's office said it will not accept any "parallel political structure" opposed to the Afghan government, a clear reference to the Taliban, who still call themselves the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."