|Deceased Taliban Chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor|
Multiple reports indicate that Iran has been working closely with the Afghan Taliban for sometime. Tehran may be hedging its bets to deal with the aftermath of US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The vacuum left by the US will most likely be filled by the Taliban who already control large swathes of territory outside of Kabul. The other emerging force most likely to challenge the Taliban is Daesh, or ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. Iran would much rather deal with the Taliban than ISIS. They see the Taliban as lesser evil.
The US and Pakistan (along with Afghanistan and China) have been unsuccessfully pushing the Afghan Taliban to talk peace with the government of President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul. At the same time, Americans and the Afghan governments are talking secretly with various factions among the Taliban to promote dissensions in their ranks. The latest killing is a signal to the Taliban that America is willing to use lethal force to remove those stand in the way of the quadrilateral reconciliation process.
The Taliban hardliners, like Mullah Akhtar Mansoor's deputies Mullah Yaqoob and Commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, believe that government of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah has little public support and no legitimacy, particularly among the Pashtuns. They expect it will fall quickly after the departure of the US forces from the country. Taliban also fear that engaging with the United States would signal their weakness and it will strengthen the growing ISIS appeal to hardline rank and file among the Talibs. They see no reason to engage in peace talks with Kabul.
The deceased Taliban Chief's strategy of getting close to Iran to reduce Pakistan's leverage over him did not sit well with Pakistani intelligence. It may be driven by the fear of the possible India-Iran-Taliban axis hurting Pakistan's interests in the region, particularly the massive China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. This may be why the ISI could have chosen to help the Americans remove Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
The Afghan situation is getting more and more complicated every day with multiple players pushing their own conflicting agendas. But they all must understand this: If the Taliban are weakened, the biggest beneficiary of it will be Daesh or ISIS which is rapidly gathering momentum. Such an outcome would be far worse for everyone, including America and Pakistan, than the return of the Taliban after American withdrawal from the region. It's very very important for the United States and Pakistan to work together to prevent the rise of ISIS in South Asia.
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