With killing of top mullah, what’s next for the Taliban in Afghanistan?

On Saturday, a U.S. drone strike killed Mullah Mansour, the leader of the Taliban and architect of the group’s bloody reconquest of Afghanistan this past year. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports on the killing, and Hari Sreenivasan talks to former Pakistani diplomat Riaz Mohammad Khan and former State Department official Barnett Rubin about what lies ahead for the Taliban.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The man who led the Afghan Taliban for the past year was killed in a U.S. operation over the weekend. The group had been gaining ground and waging a bloody war against the Afghan government.

    So, what's next for the Taliban, and the countries who fight it?

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner begins our coverage.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Smoldering wreckage on a Pakistani roadside was all that remained of the Taliban commander's vehicle hours after he died in it Saturday.

    Today, in Vietnam, President Obama officially announced a U.S. drone strike killed Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    It has been confirmed that he is dead. And he as an individual who, as head of the Taliban, was specifically targeting U.S. personnel and troops inside of Afghanistan.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Mullah Mansour took over the Afghan Taliban last summer, after the group finally announced that longtime leader Mullah Omar had died in 2013. The new leader faced down rivals, in part by rejecting Afghan- and U.S.-backed peace talks.

    Under his direction, Taliban forces briefly seized the Northern Afghan city of Kunduz last September, and carried out a bloody assault in Kabul itself in April, killing 64.

    Word of his death was welcomed by Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah:

  • ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, Chief Executive, Afghanistan (through interpreter):

    He was in charge of all terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, and he had direct contact with other terrorist networks. This will bring a big change in the Taliban condition. His death is a blow to their abilities in carrying out terrorist attacks against the Afghan people.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signaled that the Taliban leader's death could also open the door to renewed peace talks. The drone strike that killed Mansour was the first by the U.S. inside Baluchistan, in Southwestern Pakistan. It's long been a Taliban stronghold.

    In London yesterday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack, saying the U.S. gave no advance warning.

  • NAWAZ SHARIF, Prime Minister, Pakistan (through interpreter):

    We are protesting strongly. This is a violation of the sovereignty of Pakistan.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    But Afghanistan's government accuses the Pakistanis of harboring a veritable who's-who of most wanted terrorists.

  • GEN. DAWLAT WAZIRI, Spokesman, Afghan Defense Ministry (through interpreter):

    The Haqqani Network is in Pakistan. Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden were in Pakistan, and now Mullah Mansour was killed in Pakistan's Baluchistan. It would be better if Pakistan cooperated with Afghanistan and didn't give shelter to these people who are continuing the war in Afghanistan.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Pakistani authorities say a passport found near the drone strike wreckage shows Mansour had just returned from Iran. Officials there denied the claim.

    Meanwhile, the already-fractured Taliban is scrambling to close ranks. Senior leaders met today, and speculation over a successor centers on Mansour's deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, a warlord seen as even more brutal than Mansour.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Margaret Warner.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    We take a closer look at what this means for Afghanistan moving forward with Riaz Mohammad Khan, a former Pakistani diplomat who also served as that country's foreign minister, and Barnett Rubin. He was a senior adviser at the U.S. State Department from 2009 to 2013.

    Riaz Khan, I want to start with you. Who was Mullah Mansour? What do we know about him?

  • RIAZ MOHAMMAD KHAN, Former Pakistani Diplomat:

    Well, Mullah Mansour was an important leader under Mullah Omar.

    And after a long struggle, he was being recognized as the leader of the Afghan Taliban. Of course, now he's dead. And this is going to lead to another round of divisive struggling for leadership within the Taliban.

    But apart from that, I think it will be a setback to the so-called quartet process. Secondly, I think we can anticipate a spike in violence, because, knowing the character of the Afghan Taliban, some of the factions, they would want to avenge this. And there may be some violence within Afghanistan or in Pakistan.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Barnett Rubin, what about the significant of this happening in Baluchistan?

  • BARNETT RUBIN, Former State Department Official:

    Well, first, it's important to recognize that this was — the decision to undertake this act was inspired by the need to protect American soldiers, not by a strategic decision about the course of the Afghan war or Afghanistan.

    What is important about striking Baluchistan is, Baluchistan is the province in Pakistan where the headquarters of the Afghan Taliban is located, primarily in the city of Quetta. And we have known that for a very long time.

    But the United States used drones. Mostly, it was the CIA using drones against terrorists with global reach, like al-Qaida or those closely connected to al-Qaida, in the tribal areas of Pakistan. And they had agreed with the military of Pakistan there were certain areas where they could use those drone strikes.

    Now, this strike was carried out by the United States special forces in Afghanistan, which means it's not part of the CIA's anti-terrorism campaign. It's part of the war in Afghanistan. So they have extended the territory of the war of Afghanistan into Baluchistan, which also puts Pakistan in a deservedly very difficult position, because it shows that the leader of the Taliban was driving a taxi across Baluchistan without apparently being concerned about his security, which shows that the top leadership of the Taliban operates with impunity in Pakistan, which we all knew, of course, and means that their complaints about violating their sovereignty are null and void, because they are constantly violating the sovereignty of Afghanistan by sponsoring military incursions and terrorist acts have.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Riaz Khan, what about the idea that there is a level of complicity? Mullah Mansour also had a fake Pakistani passport. What is the relationship between the intelligence agencies in Pakistan and what they do they know and what are they willing to tolerate with leadership of the Taliban?

  • RIAZ MOHAMMAD KHAN:

    Well, first, I would like to say that this shows — this incident shows, apart from the question of sovereignty, that the United States didn't trust Pakistan.

    There is no confidence. There is no transparency, which is necessary for cooperation in such matters. But as far as complicity is concerned, the Taliban, many — most of the Taliban, they have come to Pakistan — had come to Pakistan after the American intervention. And many of them have got passports.

    It wouldn't be surprising if he also can use Pakistani passport. There are five million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. And many of them, they have become part of the Pakistani society. But there is this disconnect between Pakistan and the United States in terms of confidence which is necessary.

    Secondly, I should say that a lot of blame is placed on Pakistan ISI, others, et cetera, for the troubles in Afghanistan. But there is — it ignores the fact of failure policy; it ignores the fact of error of judgment, like, for example, Iraq.

    There is a great deal of mess over there. Now, there is no ISI and Pakistan over there. It had been a failure of policy. Similarly here, the failure of policy goes even back to the voting process, where the Taliban, reconcilable Taliban, should have been brought into the fold of the voting process, but that didn't happen.

    There have been other mistakes, like, for example, the control of Kabul was left to the Northern Alliance forces, which were mostly non-Pashtun. That rankled with the Pashtun. And that helped, in fact, the Taliban revive themselves later on.

    And that kind of imbalance even continues today in the Afghan national army. And that is the reason why it is not that effective in the Pashtun-dominated areas of Afghanistan.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Barnett Rubin, as Mr. Khan just mentioned, what about the diplomatic and political implications about the fact that there wasn't any sort of a signal given, any permission asked before this strike was launched, the level of distrust that exists between these two countries?

  • BARNETT RUBIN:

    Well, first, I will just say, I agree with my friend Riaz Mohammad Khan that there were a lot of policy mistakes by the United States, in particular missing early opportunities to include the Taliban in the setup Afghanistan, so that they would have not fled to Pakistan.

    Now, your question was, if you can repeat it?

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Sorry.

    I was just asking, what about the level of distrust between these two countries?

  • BARNETT RUBIN:

    Oh, yes.

    Well, the United States has had experiences where, when they have given advance notice to Pakistan about a counterterrorism action, that somehow the target of that action escapes.

    And clearly, you know, of course there are lots of Afghans in Pakistan and some of them have Pakistani passports. But it certainly strains credulity to believe that a very effective intelligence service, such as Pakistan has, wouldn't be aware of the location of the leader of Afghan Taliban, who apparently not only went to Iran, but flew 18 times out of the international airport at Karachi, according to the stamps in his passport.

    So, clearly, since he was clearly under their protection, and they also provided security for him to be elected and for him to hold large gatherings last summer to try to build support for himself, and as they even told us that they were trying to make sure he could consolidate power, they certainly didn't want to give them advance warning that they were going to make this attack.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Barnett Rubin, Riaz Mohammad Khan, thank you both.

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