Ashgabat, 31 June 2016 (nCa) — It is surprising – or, perhaps it is not surprising – that except for some stringers for provincial newspapers hardly any journalist has bothered to visit Ahmedwal, the sizeable village along the RCD Highway in Balochistan where Mulla Mansour was assassinated recently.
I have some contacts in Ahmedwal, dating back to the time when I did some investigative reports on foreign interference in Balochistan, the mostly barren but strategically crucial province of Pakistan that borders with Afghanistan and Iran.
Our contact spoke to a person who saw the charred remains of the car in which Mulla Mansour was traveling that fateful late-afternoon. He says that the bodies were totally unrecognizable, almost burnt together with the vehicle, but the passport and identity card of two persons were lying a few feet away from the mangled car. There were several bullet holes in the car, he says.
Apparently the travelers had been killed already and the car was stationary when it was hit by the drone.
Who killed them and how?
This is a question for the investigators who have all the resources at their disposal. What we have found, and it may be pure speculation, is that the now-defunct Jundullah, a Baloch terrorist group widely believed to have been financed and run by the USA may have done the deed.
One may recall that Abdolmalek Rigi (also spelled Regi, Riki, Rikki) was captured and hanged by Iran in 2010 because of a number of acts of terrorism he committed in various parts of Iran. He was the head of Jundullah.
After his death Jundullah went quiet, as if it had ceased to exist. Nevertheless, it continued its activities, at a subdued pace, under a new name: Jaish al-Adl (army of justice).
They draw cadres mostly from the Rigi tribe that inhabits the areas around RCD Highway such as Noshiki, Dalbandin and Ahmedwal.
There is some talk in the teahouses that Iran tipped the Americans about the movement and timing of Mulla Mansour when he crossed the border from Taftan. These teahouses where the drivers take some rest are the places that make the news travel fast. There is the talk that Iranians requested that Mansour should not be targeted inside the territory of Iran even though from Zahidan to Taftan there is 120-km of distance where the terrain is as desolate as on the Pakistan side; no greenery, no habitation, just bleak and stony land. A vehicle can be targeted without the risk of heavy ‘collateral damage.’
There are whispers that the Jaish al-Adl, believed to be in the pay of USA just like its predecessor Jundullah, was ready to intercept the car near Ahmedwal. They were said to be in FC (Frontier Constabulary) uniforms. The rumour mill insists that Jaish al-Adl boys identified Mulla Mansour by his assumed name after looking at his passport, killed him together with the driver, and threw the identity documents at some distance and it was only then that the vehicle was hit by the drone strike.
There is no way to confirm this information but it sounds plausible simply because the bodies were burnt beyond recognition, the car was a mutilated mess but the identity documents were in pristine condition, lying away from the doomed vehicle.
It is difficult to explain the sudden assassination of Mulla Mansour unless we take into account the probability that the Obama administration, notwithstanding the rhetoric, is not actually interested in bringing the Taliban to the negotiation table.
A retired general and a senior journalist I consulted in Pakistan had similar views that neither the American nor the Afghan governments were interested in talking to the Taliban. They were of the view that had there been any substance to their talk, they would not have sabotaged the peace process when tangible results were in sight last year.
Because of their contacts with sources close to the Taliban, the general and the journalist said that Mulla Mansour had done considerable ground work for kick-starting the peace process and some announcement was expected within the next few weeks. Both of them are inclined to think that the hasty liquidation of Mulla Mansour was aimed at disrupting the peace proceedings.
The intended outcome was that the Taliban would be irredeemably fragmented.
This would have been a useful development had there been a popular, honest and competent government in Kabul.
The swift election of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada as the new Taliban chief must have been an unpleasant surprise for Kabul and Washington. He is a respected scholar, with more than 25 years of service in various seminaries. Many of the Taliban field commanders are his students.
It is difficult to anticipate his strategy but one indication is the drift of Fatwas (religious edicts) issued by him over the years. He has a principled stand that resonates with the rank and file Taliban.
For now it is important to keep some facts in mind:
- Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada is from Nurzai tribe, which is equally acceptable to all factions of Taliban as far as the tribal lineage is concerned. He is free of any controversy and his election was reportedly unanimous.
- His deputies are Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of late Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, the functional head of Haqqani group. It means that both the Kandahar and Jalalabad branches of the Taliban are on board.
- Pashtunwali is the binding code for all Pashtuns. Badal (vengeance, revenge, justice) is an integral part of Pashtunwali. The spilled blood of Mulla Mansour will not be forgotten.