Who was Mullah Omar and what does his death mean?

  • Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 29, 2015 17:23 IST
Supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban Mullah Omar. (File photo)

Mullah Omar is credited with beginning the movement that became known as the Taliban in 1994, when Afghanistan was being torn apart by infighting among the mujahideen groups that had driven out the Soviet Union.

The reclusive, one-eyed Omar -- seen only in a handful of photos -- and his band of followers very quickly overran Afghanistan, except for a small area in the northeast.

His movement, which came to be known as the Taliban, was actively supported by the Pakistani security establishment. Omar introduced a primitive Islamic system of government but the stability that the Taliban enforced led to many countries, including the US, working with them.

Arguably, Omar’s fatal mistake was to provide haven to a Saudi-born veteran of the Afghan war -- Osama bin Laden, the founder of al Qaeda. Bin Laden used his Afghan base to carry out attacks against the US, culminating in the 9/11 terror strikes.

Even afterwards, Omar refused to hand over bin Laden to the US despite strong pressure even from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, his only external friends. Ultimately, Omar was never able to see beyond the basic tribal politics of his native Afghanistan.

The subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan led to the Taliban regime in late 2001. Omar and his top commanders fled to Pakistan, where they came to be known as the 'Quetta Shura' because of their base in the southwestern city in Balochistan and effectively served as the Taliban government-in-exile.

Events in Afghanistan after the US invasion led to the formation of the Hamid Karzai-led government in Kabul with the backing of Western powers, an alternative Afghan Taliban movement supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and later an anti-Pakistani tribal grouping called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

In all of this, Omar and his Quetta Shura became increasingly marginalised. They remained largely silent and in hiding, primarily because of fears of killed or captured by the Americans, but also because Omar really had no political vision for the new Afghan set-up.

As far as is known, Omar had opposed all attempts, even by Pakistan, to negotiate a power-sharing agreement between the Afghan Taliban and the Western-backed Kabul regime. The new Afghan Taliban, while giving him lip service, looked to other ground commanders for leadership.

Several reports of his death had emerged over the years, partly because he was never seen in public or heard on messages issued by the Taliban during this period. If Omar died two years ago, as was reported, the Taliban have not felt the need to acknowledge this and that his death had no major impact on developments on the ground in Afghanistan.

Pakistan may actually find Omar’s death useful to their attempts to broker a peace agreement between Kabul and the Taliban. India will be merely pleased that the man who led the Taliban during the IC-814 hijack is at last dead. The Americans, who were already trying their best to forget Afghanistan, will see him as one more box that has been ticked.

Read:Mullah Omar died two years ago: Pak tells Afghanistan

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