After various disputed reports of his death over the past several years, Afghan officials confirmed to the Associated Press on Wednesday that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is dead. According to Afghanistan's main intelligence agency, Mullah Omar has been dead for more than two years, having died in Pakistan in 2013. The most recent report of his death comes days ahead of the Afghan government's second round of peace talks with the Taliban. Based on an alleged letter that Mullah Omar had sent to President Obama in 2012, it seems that the one-eyed militant had been pushing for such peace talks in the years before his death, even agreeing to negotiate with the U.S., where he has long been on the FBI's most wanted list.
On Wednesday, Abdul Hassib Seddiqi, a spokesman for Afghan intelligence agency National Directorate of Security, told the AP that Mullah Omar died in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan in April 2013. He told the news agency:
We confirm officially that he is dead.
While this is shaping up to be the most serious report of his death, after similar announcements were made in the past several years, there is still some dispute over its accuracy. Earlier this month, BBC reported that Mullah Omar had released a press release in which he once again supported peace talks with the Afghan government.
In the release (translated by CNN), Mullah Omar emphasized the goal of the peace talks:
The objective behind our political endeavors as well as contacts and interactions with countries of the world and our own Afghans is to bring an end to the occupation and to establish an independent Islamic system in our country.
He justified the talks by rationalizing that "concurrently with armed jihad, political endeavors and peaceful pathways for achieving these sacred goals is a legitimate Islamic principle and an integral part of Prophetic politics."
However, if the latest report of his death is true, then this message cannot be attributed to Mullah Omar. Regardless, it echoes an unsigned note that the leader allegedly sent President Obama in 2012, the year before he reportedly died. Claiming to be from Mullah Omar, the letter asks President Obama to release senior Taliban members from Guantánamo Bay in exchange for peace talks in Afghanistan.
At the time, the letter marked the strongest evidence thus far of Taliban leaders' willingness to open negotiations after a decade of insurgency. Despite the significance of the message, the White House took it with a grain of salt, telling The Daily Telegraph at the time:
There is a letter but there's real skepticism within the administration about who it came from. We've received things but have we received anything that we can say we believe came from Mullah Omar? Not at this point.
Like the many death reports on Mullah Omar and his press statement from earlier this month, the authenticity of the letter was never confirmed. But what matters at this point is that the Taliban's willingness to continue peace talks seems to be genuine.
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