Is Peace Possible in Afghanistan?

Mullah Omar's Death and the Future of Peace Talks

Taliban fighters train with their weapons in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan, July 2009. Stringer / Reuters

The first seven months of 2015 saw unprecedented movement toward peace in Afghanistan. A series of unofficial meetings between the Taliban and the Afghan government culminated in an official meeting in Pakistan on July 7. A second meeting was scheduled for July 31. The gatherings were preliminary, but real peace talks appeared close at hand. Then, on July 29, the world learned of the death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

Mullah Omar was always the wild card for peace talks. Only he could ensure that the Taliban would stand together behind a deal, experts said. Without his endorsement, the talks would be illegitimate.

Taliban militants with their weapons in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan, January 2009. Stringer / Reuters
Sure enough, with the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death, momentum toward peace came to a halt. The meeting set for July 31 was postponed indefinitely. Then Omar’s successor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour, rejected negotiations altogether and reissued the call for jihad against the United States and the Afghan government. Nearly a week after that, over the course of four days, three bombings wrecked Kabul, killing and injuring nearly 400 Afghans. The Taliban claimed responsibility. The question now is whether the window for peace talks is closed.


The Taliban are immersed in a power struggle. Mansour is trying to secure his position against defiant rivals such as Abdul Qayum Zakir and Omar’s son Yakub, who question his right to rule. There are two possible outcomes to these struggles, each with its own implications for negotiations. One outcome is that the Taliban movement stays united. A single leader—Mansour or one of his current rivals—defeats all others and holds the movement together. In order to rule effectively thereafter, the new leader would have to prove himself. He would have to show the Taliban rank and file that he can carry the flag and wage war against the United States in Afghanistan. The presence of the Islamic State (also called ISIS), a credible threat to Taliban legitimacy, would further press the new leader to prove himself through war. For these

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