By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday confirmed that their leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, had in fact been killed by a U.S. drone strike, going on to declare Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada the group’s new leader.
Exactly where and when the strike that killed Mansoor happened, however, still remains open to question, with conflicting accounts being given by the main parties involved.
Meanwhile, the identity of a man killed in a U.S. drone strike that occurred last Saturday in Pakistan’s southwestern Nushki district is still unknown.
While the U.S., Kabul and a Taliban faction all say Mansoor was indeed killed in a drone strike, their respective statements as to the time and location of the strike fail to entirely correspond with each other.
According to the U.S. leadership, including the White House, the Taliban chief was targeted last Saturday (May 21) somewhere near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Washington, however, has refused to divulge the exact location of the strike, particularly whether it occurred on Pakistani or Afghan territory.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdulla Abdullah (who shares executive power with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani) says the strike that killed Mansoor occurred in the Dalbadin district of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, some 200 kilometers from the Nushki district.
Mullah Abdul Rauf, a purported Taliban commander, meanwhile, has said Mansoor was in fact killed in a May 20 drone strike -- although he, too, refrained from providing a location.
Islamabad, for its part, has since lodged a protest with Washington -- its close ally in the war on terrorism -- describing the strike as a "violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty".
Pakistan has also rejected U.S. claims that it had been informed of the drone strike that killed Mansoor beforehand.
What’s more, Islamabad has remained tight-lipped as to whether the man killed in Saturday’s drone strike was actually Mullah Mansoor.
On Tuesday, Pakistani Information Minister Pervez Rasheed told reporters that the government was still collecting facts about the drone strike that killed Mansoor, promising to release its findings in coming days.
In Pakistan, the confusion over Mansoor’s reported death has led to a flurry of conspiracy theories.
According to one of them, Mansoor was in fact killed earlier this year by a rival Taliban faction that refused to accept him as the successor to previous Taliban chief Mullah Mohammed Omar, but U.S. intelligence had only recently managed to confirm his death.
Hafiz Hamdullah, a member of the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) party, says that Mansoor actually died several months ago and that the U.S. had fabricated reports of a drone strike so as to take credit for his death.
Another theory suggests that Mansoor’s killing was the result of a joint Pakistan-U.S. venture, given that both countries were equally unhappy with his alleged intransigence regarding the resumption of stalled peace talks.
Intelligence sources have confirmed that Mansoor’s name frequently came up at a series of meetings held in recent months between Pakistani army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif and the U.S. leadership, both civilian and military.
On Tuesday, the New York Times claimed that Islamabad had provided Washington with intelligence regarding Mansoor’s recent movements.
Citing "a European official who had been briefed on the American operation", the Times went on to report that Mansoor had been targeted upon his return from Iran, where he had gone for medical treatment.
Proponents of the U.S.-Pakistan joint operation theory believe Pakistan is denying its role in the venture so as to not to lose the influence it still has on the Taliban.
- Who is Wali Mohammad?
Initial accounts of Mansoor’s death last Saturday were further confused by reports that the man killed in the drone strike had been carrying documents bearing the name "Wali Mohammad", raising fears that the wrong man had been killed.
Who, then, is Wali Mohammad?
The addresses given on his Pakistani passport and national ID card have since been proven incorrect.
When police raided the two addresses -- one in the Chaman district near Afghanistan and the other near the southern port city of Karachi -- neighbors told security officials that no one of that name had ever lived there.
According to official records unearthed on the basis of the passport and ID card, Wali was a father of 17 by two wives. Pakistani police have reportedly taken one of his wives into custody from an Afghan refugee camp in Karachi.
Wali also owned an apartment in a middle-income area of Karachi, but neighbors there told police that the photo in the passport was not of the person they knew by that name.
Records also revealed that Wali, a crockery trader by profession, had been a frequent traveler, visiting both the UAE and Bahrain numerous times -- via the Karachi and Quetta airports -- within the past decade.
Further fuelling conspiracy theories, Wali’s body was picked up from a Quetta government hospital on Monday by someone claiming to be his nephew -- but there has been no information as to whether a funeral was held or where the body was buried.