The new Afghan Taliban leader appealed for unity in the insurgency in his first public message released on Saturday amid reports his predecessor’s family members opposed his selection, Reuters reports.

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor

The new head, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, was deputy for several years to the elusive one-eyed former leader Mullah Omar, who served as a unifying figure and a spiritual guide for the insurgency despite his absence.

This week, the Taliban confirmed Omar had been dead for some time. The Afghan government said it was more than two years.

Mansoor’s selection could be a promising development for peace talks, analysts say, if he can persuade other factions of the fractious insurgency to support him.

“The enemy can’t defeat us if we show unity,” he said in an audio recording that Taliban members provided to journalists.

“I will utilize all my energies to follow our late Mullah Mohammad Omar and his mission,” he said. “We need to be patient and should try to go to those friends who are unhappy. We will have to convince them and take them on board.”

On Friday, Taliban commanders who attended the meeting that chose Mansoor as Omar’s successor, said Omar’s son Yaqoob and brother Abdul Manan had walked out of the gathering in protest.

The open dissent within the movement’s core group underscores the challenge Mansoor faces. He has to try to persuade wavering commanders to pursue peace talks with the Afghan government.

Two Afghan militant groups declared Omar was dead last month and swore allegiance to Islamic State.

Mansoor blamed divisions in the Taliban on “enemy propaganda” and swore to continue to fight for rule under sharia, the Islamic legal and moral code, and to follow the vision of Mullah Omar.

He also cautioned against the killing of civilians. A United Nations report released at the end of last year said that for a second year, insurgents were responsible for about 75 percent of civilians killed.

“In the name of jihad, the killing of innocent people is not Islamic. We need to win the hearts of people, then we can rule their hearts,” he said.

Coming days crucial

Observers say the coming days should reveal how the Taliban leadership crisis plays out — a process which could have a seismic effect on Afghanistan’s political landscape, AP adds.

“There’s a lot of unknowns right now, but hopefully within the next few days we would know more about what will be the intentions of the new leadership and if the new leader would be able to keep unity within the Taliban,” said Haroun Mir, a political analyst.

If Mansoor fails to appease his fighters and field commanders on the ground, the ultimate beneficiary could be the Islamic State group which has established a small foothold in Afghanistan.

The position of the Afghan government was also unclear, he said, as President Ashraf Ghani — who has made peace a priority of his administration — is in Germany for medical treatment. “We are hopeful that when President Ghani returns to Kabul, he will make a statement about this new event and about the future of the peace process,” Mir said.

Haqqani Network founder ‘not dead’

Jalaluddin Haqqani
Jalaluddin Haqqani

In a separate statement Saturday, the Taliban refuted media reports that the leader of the Haqqani Network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, had died in eastern Afghanistan a year ago, Radio Free Europe /Radio Liberty said.

“These claims have no basis,” the statement said. It said the leader of one of the country’s most brutal insurgent groups, based in Pakistan’s tribal belt with links to al-Qaeda, “has been blessed with good health for a long time now and has no troubles currently.”

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