True or False, Rumors of Taliban Leader's Death Hamper Afghan Peace Talks

Just days ahead of a new round of peace talks between the Afghan government in Kabul and the Taliban, regional and international speculation has surfaced—though not for the first time—that the elusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is no longer alive.

While the Afghan government on Wednesday said it was investigating unconfirmed claims of Omar’s demise, the rumors come as violence has spiked ahead of the talks and reports are emerging that the Taliban is experiencing an internal power struggle that could impact its ability to forge a sustainable peace accord with Kabul. 

“We have also seen reports in the media on the death of Mullah Omar, we are assessing those reports,” President Ashraf Ghani’s deputy spokesperson Zafar Hashemi told journalists during a press conference on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a Pakistani security official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to brief journalists, told the Associated Press that the circling rumors were simply “speculation” designed to disrupt the upcoming peace talks. Experts note how Afghan intelligence officials have previously been the source of claims, later proven untrue, that specific Taliban fighters, including Omar himself, were dead or injured as a way to sow confusion in the public mind about the group’s cohesiveness or military capabilities.

According to AP:

As the Washington Post notes:

As of this writing, the Taliban has yet to confirm or deny the latest claims of Omar’s possible death, which have been brewing in Afghan and Pakistani media for nearly a week.

The Guardian reports:

In the end, whether his death is true or whether the invention of it is a subterfuge designed to upend the talks, the reality remains for the Afghan people that nothing—not even Omar himself—remains more elusive than a negotiated settlement or a lasting peace.