The Afghan government has confirmed that the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, died more than two years ago in Pakistan.
The formal confirmation from the office of President Ashraf Ghani came after a flurry of media reports, mostly citing unnamed Afghan government and intelligence officials, regarding the death of the reclusive one-eyed militant commander.
“The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, based on credible information, confirms that Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban, died in April 2013 in Pakistan,” said a brief statement issued by Ghani’s office.
The Afghan government urged all militant groups to take the opportunity to join peace talks.
“The government of Afghanistan believes that grounds for the Afghan peace talks are more paved now than before, and thus calls on all armed opposition groups to seize the opportunity and join the peace process,” the statement said.
The Govt of the IRA, based on credible information, confirms that Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of the Taliban died in April 2013 in Pakistan— ارګ (@ARG_AFG) July 29, 2015
There was no word from the Taliban on the issue. Details about the circumstances surrounding Mullah Omar’s death were not immediately available.
Mullah Omar’s death was initially confirmed by authorities in Pakistan, who shared the information with Afghan government officials, Afghanistan’s Khaama Press reported.
The issue was reportedly discussed during a meeting of the Afghan cabinet following the confirmation by Pakistani authorities.
An unnamed former Afghan Taliban minister told Pakistan’s The Express Tribune that Mullah Omar died more than two years ago of tuberculosis.
“Mullah Omar died two years and four months ago owing to tuberculosis. He has been buried on the Afghan side of the border,” the former minister said. “Mullah Omar’s son had identified the body of his father.”
Reports suggested the Afghan Taliban had convened a meeting to elect a new chief before the next round of talks with the government in the Pakistani resort of Murree on July 31.
It was speculated that Mullah Baradar would succeed Mullah Omar, who had appointed Baradar and Mullah Ubaidullah Akhund as deputy leaders while he was alive.
Ubaidullah died in a jail in Pakistan while Baradar was reportedly released from captivity by Pakistan with some other Taliban leaders in 2013. It is believed Baradar enjoys the support of Sayed Tayyab Agha, the head of the Afghan Taliban’s political office in Qatar.
Mullah Yaqub, the son of Mullah Omar, favours Baradar succeeding his father. Yaqub himself is seen as a potential successor but several Taliban leaders think he is too young to take on the reins.
The reports of Mullah Omar’s death came close on the heels of the claim by a splinter group of the Taliban – the Afghanistan Islamic Movement Fidai Mahaz – that he was killed by Taliban leaders Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor and Gull Agha in July 2013.
The National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s spy agency, had said last November that Mullah Omar had died and his group has split into three factions.
Mullah Omar has not been seen in public since the US-led intervention in 2001. Some disgruntled Taliban commanders have defected to the Islamic State led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which has been strengthening its presence in the country.