PESHAWAR, Pakistan Conflicting reports have deepened uncertainty surrounding the fate of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour, after the insurgent Islamist group repeatedly denied he had been wounded in a gunfight after a dispute with other senior leaders.
Several sources in the Taliban have said that Mansour, whose claim to the leadership is rejected by a rival faction, was seriously wounded and possibly killed in a shootout at the home of yet another Taliban leader close to Quetta in Pakistan on Tuesday.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said on Twitter Mansour was wounded in a firefight near Quetta, in western Pakistan, but there has been no direct evidence.
The Taliban’s principal spokesman has dismissed the reports as propaganda from Afghan intelligence solutions meant to produce divisions inside the movement, saying Mansour is alive and well.
However, scepticism has been fuelled by the secrecy that surrounded the death of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, which was only confirmed in July, two years soon after he had died.
There has been no statement from Mansour himself so far and Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said enhanced security measures meant it was taking some time to get in touch with him straight.
“Effectively, we are attempting to find him by means of our people to get his voice and release to the media to kill these rumours spread by the Afghan puppet government,” Mujahid said.
The uncertainty has clouded prospects for any resumption in a peace approach facilitated by Pakistan soon after talks broke down in July following the confirmation of Omar’s death.
Afghan officials are cautious about what the signs of escalating fragmentation in the Taliban could mean.
“The rift is certainly weakening the movement and if they are not one particular united force, it could be less complicated to convince them for peace or remove them,” stated one official, who asked not to be identified.
Other Taliban members close to Mansour have confirmed he had been hurt in the gunfight, which followed a dispute over how to deal with the factional split in the movement, and had apparently been taken to a private hospital for treatment.
“We even never know where he was taken but some of our folks later told us he was admitted in a private hospital and that his situation was ?still critical,” mentioned one particular senior Taliban member close to Mansour.
Dozens of people were killed in the southeastern province of Zabul final month when fierce clashes broke out among rival Taliban factions.
“The regional commanders, who are the backbone of the insurgency, appear to disobey their leaders’ orders when it comes to subduing those who do not accept Mullah Akhtar Mansour as the supreme leader,” the Afghan official said.
(This story adds dropped word “leader” to headline)
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in KABUL Writing by James Mackenzie Editing by Paul Tait)