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The family of deceased Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar and some of the Islamist insurgent group's commanders insist that they have not endorsed Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as new leader, in a draft statement seen by VICE News. The group's media arm has meanwhile sought to smooth over evidence of an internal schism by releasing a video that is said to show members pledging allegiance to Mansoor.
Mansoor was named as the new head of the Taliban on Thursday. But the draft statement, which is attributed to the group's senior council and was provided to VICE News by a highly placed source within the Taliban, says that the announcement was made without the input of either the council or of the group's religious leaders.
"After his death some limited people, without consulting the senior council of the Islamic emirates and without the will of religious scholars but only for their own personal benefit, announced Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor as the new leader and successor of Mullah Omar," it reads. "They imposed his leadership on the Islamic Emirate. This kind of appointment is against all Islamic principles, neither have we witnessed any such appointments in any Islamic movement in the world."
It goes on to say that after the mourning period for Mullah Omar is over, senior leadership will gather to discuss a new head.
"We request to all that until we arrange this gathering and make the decision on the new leader, you be tolerant and be patient and be ready, so the enemy shouldn't use this against us," the statement warns, urging that the succession process not to be discussed during the mourning period so as not to "create a tension between the mujahideen and the Muslim nation."
Mullah Omar's son Mohammad Yacoub recently revealed the news to a small group of commanders in a meeting that ended in disagreement over the appointment of Mansour as the new leader, including acrimonious dissent from Yacoub and Omar's brother Mullah Abdul Manan, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The release of the video showing Taliban members pledging allegiance to Mansoor is an apparent attempt to illustrate his support. The footage, which was released on Monday, shows a crowd of thousands at a funeral responding to a commander's request to raise their hands in a signal of allegiance to Mansour, the BBC reported.
The Taliban also sought to confirm backing for Mansour in a statement released Sunday that describes him as "the new Amir of Islamic Emirate," adding that "respected scholars, saints, provincial Jihadi leaders, mujahideen, tribal elders, influential figures and ordinary locals" had pledged their allegiance.
The Afghan government said on Wednesday that Mullah Omar had died two years ago in Karachi, Pakistan. The Taliban subsequently confirmed his death. The reclusive leader had not been seen in public since 2001, when a US-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban government.
The Taliban and the Afghan government met for their first official discussion to resolve the conflict on July 7. Many in the international community welcomed the development as a first step towards ending 13 years of devastating violence. Prior to news of Omar's death, further peace talks between the two parties were scheduled.
But Mansoor last week rejected the peace process and called for unity within the Taliban. On Friday. a recording purported to feature the newly appointed leader describing the talks as "propaganda campaigns by the enemy," and vowing to continue "our Jihad until we bring an Islamic rule in the country." The group's official spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also said on Thursday morning that its "political office" had no knowledge of the meetings.
The Taliban is not only fractured over leadership and prospects for peace. The so-called Islamic State (IS), a rival jihadist group, has increased its presence and influence in Afghanistan and become an additional threat to its cohesion. A number of Taliban commanders have defected and sworn allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi since it claimed in January that Afghanistan, along with Pakistan, was part of its "Khorasan province." The uncompromisingly extreme newcomers could attract even more Taliban hardliners as they expand.
This is clearly a chief concern within the Taliban. Mansoor sent an open letter to Baghdadi in June in which he said that his faction "doesn't want to see interference in its affairs," insisting that there was room for only "one flag, one leadership, and one command" in the fight to establish Islamic rule in Afghanistan.
Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck