Kabul, July 29 (IANS) The Afghan government on Wednesday said it was examining reports that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is dead – which comes as Afghan officials and Taliban representatives are set to hold a second round of peace talks in Pakistan on Friday.
The Taliban has denied reports of the death of the reclusive, one-eyed leader, whose death has been reported earlier too, and promptly denied. The deputy spokesperson for the Afghan president, Zafar Hashemi, at a press conference in Kabul said the government is aware of reports that Taliban head Mullah Omar has been dead for two years but he said he cannot confirm or deny the report as it has to be examined.
The first round of peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government was held in Pakistan on July 7.
In the first round of talks, the Afghan government was represented by Hekmat Khalil Karzai, the deputy foreign minister, and the Taliban delegation was led by Mullah Abbas Durrani.
The two sides had agreed to meet again after Ramadan to find a solution to end the war. The US and Chinese representatives were also present at the meeting on ways to bring peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.
Ironically, on July 15, in a Eid-eve message that the Taliban attributed to Mullah Omar, the chief had hailed as “legitimate” the peace talks between his group and the Afghan government aimed at ending the 13-year war in Afghanistan.
“If we look into our religious regulations, we can find that meetings and even peaceful interactions with the enemies is not prohibited,” Omar said in his message on the eve of Eid, without directly mentioning the July 7 talks in Pakistan.
“The objective of our political struggle, 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 said.
He also for the first time supported the setting up of a political office in Qatar to help run their affairs and rejected the impression that the Taliban were controlled by Pakistan or Iran. Earlier in the day, Tolo news of Afghanistan ran the breaking news quoting sources close to the president of Mullah Omar’s death.
However, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid rejected the report as baseless, saying Mullah is “alive”.
He died two to three years ago, BBC quoted Afghan government and intelligence sources as saying. There have been several reports of Mullah Omar’s death in the past.
The US had announced a $10 million award for the rebel’s capture or death.
Mullah Omar, who was Afghanistan’s de facto head of state when the Taliban was in power from 1996 to 2001, had earlier disappeared from Pakistan’s Quetta city.
Mullah Omar’s Taliban regime in Afghanistan had sheltered Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in the years prior to the September 11 attack on the US.
That prompted the US to declare war on the Taliban and overthrow its regime with the help of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.
Taliban fighters then fled to Pakistan in large numbers to regroup.
Mullah Omar was earlier widely said to be living in hiding in Quetta, a Pakistani city close to the Afghan border.