The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the official name of the Taliban, issued a statement denying that senior leader and former Guantanamo Bay detainee Mullah Adbul Qayoum Zakir has called for negotiations with the Afghan government and the West. The Taliban has been consistent in stating publicly that it would not negotiate with the West or the Afghan government, and has insisted that only the return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the imposition of its harsh brand of sharia, or Islamic law, and the withdrawal of all Western forces is acceptable.
The statement, which cannot be independently verified by The Long War Journal, was released on the Taliban’s official website, Voice of Jihad, on April 10.
“Some media outlets claimed that member of the Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the respected Hafiz Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir has proposed holding negotiations with America and the Kabul administration,” the statement began. “Today respected Zakir Sahib while talking to Al Emarah website [an official Taliban media outlet] rejected these reports.”
Voice of Jihad then directly quoted Zakir.
“I have never proposed holding negotiations and neither do I believe in these deceiving negotiation processes,” Zakir purportedly said. “We are all struggling for the establishment of a pure Islamic government.”
The Taliban was responding to reports in several media outlets, including Al Jazeera, that claimed that Zakir issued a “12-point proposal” which “includes negotiating with the Kabul administration and foreign governments on the implementation of Islamic law, and improving military strategy and coordination within the group.”
The Taliban have sought to rebut reports of dissension within the highest ranks of the organization since it announced the death of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the groups founder and first emir, in July 2015, and publicly named Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour as his replacement. The Taliban hid Omar’s death for more than two years, which led to disputes over the appointment of the new emir.
Mullah Abdul Manan Akhund, a brother of Mullah Omar and Omar’s eldest son, initially disputed Mansour’s legitimacy, but swore allegiance to him in September 2015. Last month, the two were rewarded with senior positions within the group. Manan was named the leader of the Preaching and Guidance Commission, which is responsible for spreading the Taliban’s message. Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub, Omar’s son, was given a seat on the executive council, which is better known as the Quetta Shura, “as well as the military chief of 15 provinces” within the structure of the Taliban’s Military Commission.
Zakir is also rumored to have been at the center of the leadership dispute, but the Taliban have insisted that he remained in the fold.
Zakir is a former detainee at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility who was transferred by the US in December 2007 to Afghan custody. He was released shortly thereafter by the Afghan government and quickly rejoined the Taliban.
The Taliban immediately welcomed Zakir back into its ranks, and he was appointed the leader of the Gerdi Jangal Regional Military Shura, a regional military command that oversees operations in Helmand and Nimroz provinces.
The Taliban designated Zakir as their “surge commander” in 2010. In this role, he was assigned the task of countering the Coalition and Afghan surge of forces and the change of strategy to deny the Taliban safe haven in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Zakir is considered to be one of the Afghan Taliban’s fiercest and most committed commanders. He is also one of several senior Taliban leaders who are closely linked to al Qaeda. [See LWJ reports, The Taliban’s surge commander was Gitmo detainee and Former Gitmo detainee leads top Taliban council, for more information on Zakir.]
Zakir resigned as the head of the Taliban’s military commission in April 2014 “due to his prolonged battle with ill health,” the Taliban claimed. But it was rumored at the time that Zakir and Mansour were at odds over Taliban strategy and negotiations with the Afghan government. Although Zakir resigned as the Taliban’s military commander, he is still “a member of the Leadership Council of Islamic Emirate and is busy working in other important Jihadi works which are comparatively easier,” the Taliban said. [See LWJ report, Head of Taliban’s military commission resigns due to ‘ill health’.]
After Mansour was named as Omar’s successor, the Taliban immediate issued a statement claiming that Zakir remained a member of the Quetta Shura and did not oppose the new emir, as was rumored in the press.
Zakir formally swore allegiance to Mansour late last month. On March 31, the Taliban issued a letter on Voice of Jihad in Arabic from Mansour where he pledged to the Taliban’s new emir.
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