“Shura” means “consultation” in Arabic and is considered by some modern Sunni Islamic schools of thought to be the basis on which Muslim communities should implement representative democracy.
In the case of the Taliban, it acts as both an advisory council for the Emir (leader) and crafts policy, with various committees dedicated to different aspects of life, much like ministries in a government.
Rahimullah Yousafzai, one of the region’s leading experts on the Taliban, says that since the Shura’s founding its membership has comprised of tribal warlords, politicians and clerics — most of them elderly — with the number fluctuating between 12 and 20.
“They are Pashtun, Tajik and Uzbek but Pashtuns are in the majority,” he said.
“Under this main Shura, there are several consultative commissions dealing with decisions relating to various departments such as military, finance, education, health, culture, NGOs etc,” he adds.
Many in the West have come to see the body as being synonymous with Quetta, the southwestern Pakistani city that is the capital of restive Balochistan province and home to many exiled Taliban leaders.
This in turn has led to the council being known by some observers as the “Quetta Shura”.
Yousafzai, however, emphasises the leadership is spread across Pakistan, Afghanistan and Qatar, though security constraints make it difficult for full councils to ever convene.
Rustam Shah Mohmand, an expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan’s former ambassador to Kabul, says that when the Shura’s general assembly is included its number rises to around 60.
“It is so important that, when the Taliban dismantled the historic Buddha statues of Bamian during their rule in Afghanistan, Pakistan sent a delegation comprising intelligence officials and the-then interior minister to discuss it with Mullah Omar, he referred the matter to the Shura,” he says.
According to several senior Taliban sources a Shura consisting of high-level members is currently under way in an undisclosed location to appoint Mansour’s successor.
Prime candidates so far include the son of Taliban founder Omar, Mullah Yakoub, who was granted a place on the council by Mansour, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the dreaded Haqqani network affiliate whom Mansour named as a deputy.
Since Mansour’s tenure was marked by factionalism, he was forced to rely more heavily on the council than his predecessor, says Yousafzai, and in the absence of a single standout candidate the next Emir too will likely be heavily dependent on the body.
“Mullah Omar was given the title Amir-ul-Momineen (leader of the faithful) and had a role of a chief decision maker with the consultation of the Shura, then Mansour was more dependent on them and now the onus is on the body to select someone to unify them once more and continue their fight,” said Yousafzai.