Who was Mullah Akhtar Mansour?
Like many other Taliban leaders, he went to a madrassa in Pakistan, notably the Darul Uloom Haqqania, where Mullah Omar also studied from, and from which the legendary Mujahideen fighter Jalaluddin Haqqani was educated.
Mullah Mansoor served as minister of civil aviation in the Afghan Taliban government in the mid-1990s and comes from the Pashtun Ishaqzai tribe. Given the time that he spent in Pakistan, especially for his madrassa education, it would be very likely that the new Taliban chief is fluent in Urdu as well.
Asim Umar, the purported leader of Al Qaeda in South Asia is also believed to have studied from this madrassa, which is situated in Akora Khattak in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, not far from Peshawar. The madrassa now has a website and a Facebook page.
The madrassa was founded by Maulana Abdul Haq in 1947 and is now run by his son Maulana Samiul Haq, who is leader of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.
Mullah Akhtar Mansoor’s appointment by the Taliban Shura is reported to have caused some fissures within the organization but this cannot be independently verified, not least because much of the information on this has come either from unnamed “Taliban sources” or from sources within the Afghan intelligence, which is no friend of the Taliban.
However, what can be said with a fair degree of certainty is that Mullah Omar’s son Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob was favoured by some in the Shura, especially Mullah Zakir, to take over the organization after his father’s passing.
Incidentally, Mullah Zakir spent several years as a prisoner at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and was transferred to an Afghan prison in 2007 from where he was released. During his detention he was also known by his other name Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul.
After his release, he rejoined the Taliban and rose within the ranks to become its military commander. However, he was reported to have fallen out with other members of the leadership council. Given his experience of incarceration at the hands of the Americans, it may well be that his views were hardline compared to, say, others who did not go through that route.
However, some Western media reports (again which cannot be independently verified) also suggest that compared to Mullah Zakir, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was more moderate and that the two clashed over the group’s operational strategy.