The targeting of Mullah Mansour

The history of Afghanistan is full of monumental mistakes by foreign forces, however well-meaning their intentions, who temporarily occupied the land or allied with whoever was in power in Kabul against other contenders. The Greeks, the British, the Indians, the Russians, the Pakistanis and most recently the Americans with their Western allies can all bear witness to this fact.

Whether or not the targeted drones strike killing yesterday morning of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour  will be adjudged as yet another such mistake or harbinger for bringing peace to Afghanistan  remains to be seen. Certainly it is of great importance in that regard.

The American motivation was clearly spelt out by Secretary of State John Kerry who said that the Taliban leader posed a “continuing imminent threat” to US personnel in Afghanistan and to Afghans, and was a threat to peace and that this action sends a clear message to the world that we will continue to stand with our Afghan partners as they work to build a more stable, united, secure and prosperous Afghanistan. He added that.”Peace is what we want. Mansour was a threat to that effort and to bringing an end to the violence and suffering people of Afghanistan have endured for so many years now. He was also directly opposed to the peace negotiation and to the reconciliation process.”

Fourteen and a half years ago after 9/11 the USA invaded Afghanistan in preference to trying to divide the Taliban Afghan factions as the British would have done. Be that as it may after almost 15 and a half years of an unprecedented military campaign and expenditure of precious lives on all sides as well as treasure, the US/NATO/ISAF and Afghan government forces were unable to destroy the Taliban resistance or to drive them to the negotiation table.

American generals, Petreus and McChrystal who had been temporarily successful in the different theatre of operations of Iraq, attempted to duplicate the same tactics in Afghanistan. Key elements were: a significant troops surge; reliance on a Joint Special Operations Command reflecting the increasing reliance of special operation forces within the US military; and the targeted killing of Afghan Taliban middle and lower level leaders and commanders .The objective was to “attrite” the Taliban , to weaken their morale and capability and to  force them to the negotiations table.

This policy of fight and talk became a major difference with Pakistan which after the long suffering Afghan people bear the major fallout from continuing instability in Afghanistan, including 1.56 million refugees for almost four decades and about a million illegal Afghan economic migrants. When the policy failed  Pakistan was blamed by the United States and the Afghan Government for, “ not doing more”, and that refrain continues to ward off criticism  or examination of the of their own policies. For Pakistan there was no other solution other than to reach a political accommodation.

There were some modest first steps in this regard. Pakistan helped persuade the Taliban through the good offices of Mullah Mansour to enter talks with Afghanistan in July of last year. However the talks were torpedoed deliberatively by the hardline Afghan intelligence Agency which announced that Mullah Omar had died two years ago.

The Quadrilater Cooperation Group (QCG) composed of Afghan, USA, China and Pakistan was setup to jumpstart the peace and reconciliation process. At every meeting the Afghan side insisted Pakistan pressure the Taliban to restart negotiations and for the quartet to declare that recalcitrant factions would be moved against rather than Afghanistan itself first taking steps to encourage peace and reconciliation. The Taliban resented this Afghan demand as it implied they were under Pakistan’s control, and for the same reason it impacted Pakistan’s efforts as well.

It is ironic that the Joint Statement at the conclusion of the latest and 5th meeting of the Quartet in Islamabad on 18 May 2016 last week interaliastressed that that “violence serves no purpose and that peace negotiations remain the only option for a political settlement”. Yet three days later the drone strike against the Taliban leader who initiated the first round of talks last year.

To some extent the strike is also partly a  message to Pakistan which is being asked to move against the Haqqani network  and better controlling the long porous 2560 km international border with Afghanistan which on their side the allied forces in their heyday and the Afghan National Army has never been able to close. The Afghan Government wants Pakistan to control a border that it does not recognize, which it opposes fencing or other meaningful control measures on Pakistan’s side  and though which it insists its citizens have the right to move at will.

Then there is the overall question under the rules and practices of war concerning avoiding targeting government leaders or leaders of insurgent as opposed to terrorist movements, considering that in this case that the Taliban   are supported by a significant part of the Afghan population , are generally regarded as an insurgent force or movement and the objective has been to bring them to the negotiating table not to eliminate them. In World War 11 reportedly Churchill vetoed suggestions that Hitler  be assassinated by Allied agents and no such action was taken against Saddam Hussain or more recently against other leaders in the Middle East and North Africa by countries opposed to their policies. There was a realpolik consideration at play that doing otherwise would set an unfortunate precedent, be counterproductive and blur further the already opaque distinctions between just and unjust wars.

The targeting of Mullah Mansour is likely to complicate further efforts for a peaceful solution including those of the Quartet .If anything to increase Taliban recalcitrance. The broad view from Pakistan would be that it will not degrade the Taliban, rather pave the way for possibly Mullah Omar’s son to take over and in any case bring into power the hardline Taliban making reconciliation far harder. Time will tell if this strike furthers the USA’s declared motivation to remove an impediment to starting talks or have the opposite effect. Continuing instability will have grave consequences for Pakistan which must take steps to insulate itself as far as possible. Serious border management and control will be one step and tackling illegal migration because of its security and economic complications will be part of that.

The writer is a former Pakistani diplomat. Email:

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