Despite new leadership, Taliban will continue agenda of violence: Obama

  • AFP, Ise-Shima, Japan
  • Updated: May 26, 2016 21:18 IST
US President Barack Obama attends a news conference during the 2016 Ise-Shima G7 Summit in Shima, Japan. (Reuters File Photo)

The Taliban is unlikely to come to the table for peace talks with the government of Afghanistan “anytime soon”, despite the organisation’s new leadership, US President Barack Obama said on Thursday.

Obama told reporters in Japan, where he is meeting with other leaders of the Group of Seven nations, that he expected the extremist movement to continue in Afghanistan.

“We anticipate the Taliban will continue an agenda of violence,” he said.

Obama was speaking the day after the Afghan Taliban named Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader, elevating a low-profile religious figure in a swift power transition after the death of Mullah Mansour in a US drone strike.

The surprise announcement coincided with a Taliban suicide bombing that targeted court employees near Kabul, killing 11 people in an assault that illustrated the potency of the insurgency despite the change of leadership.

Analysts said it was not clear if Akhundzada, formerly one of Mansour’s deputies, would emulate his former boss in shunning peace talks with the Afghan government.

He was also expected to face the enormous challenge of unifying an increasingly fragmented militant movement.

The US killing of Mansour showed that Washington has at least for now abandoned hopes of reviving the direct peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban, which broke down last summer.

Obama acknowledged that he was never going to find a willing negotiating partner at the helm of the extremist group.

“I was not expecting a liberal democrat to be appointed,” he told reporters.

“My hope, although not my expectation, is that there comes a point where the Taliban realise what they need to be doing” and start getting into a dialogue with the government, he said.

“I am doubtful that it will be happening anytime soon.”

Before his killing, Mansour had written a will handpicking Akhundzada to be his successor, Taliban sources told AFP, in an apparent bid to lend legitimacy to his appointment.

The killing marked a significant shift for Washington, highlighting a new willingness to target Taliban leaders in Pakistan and risk retaliatory attacks against struggling Afghan security forces.

Saturday’s drone attack, the first known American assault on a top Afghan Taliban leader on Pakistani soil, sent shock waves through the insurgent movement which had seen a resurgence under Mansour.

He was killed just nine months after being formally appointed leader following a bitter power struggle upon confirmation of founder Mullah Omar’s death.

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