The assassination of Mullah Akhtar Mansour raises questions about legality and security
The assassination of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has turned the world’s attention back to the instability and lack of security on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The assassination of Mullah Akhtar Mansour in May 2016 comes less than a year after the killing of previous Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. It exemplifies not only that the conflict between the US and the Taliban is still very much alive, but also that the region covering both Afghanistan and Pakistan is still not as secure as the Taliban’s opponents would like it to be.
This is because Mansour was killed in the Dalbandi area of Balochistan Province, South West Pakistan, further evidence that the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is still not secure and can be used by the Taliban and potentially other armed groups to move between the two countries and escape attacks by the US and its allies. The assassination itself also raises legal issues, given the fact that Mansour was killed by a US drone strike in a country that the US does not have a military presence in. What all this means for the future of the Taliban, Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the US’s role in the region is also worth considering.
This is not the first time that a significant Islamic extremist leader has been killed in Pakistan. Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011, around 10 years after he had first slipped across the border from Afghanistan during the US invasion back in 2001. Furthermore, the Taliban has taken advantage of the instability in the area, setting up strongholds in Pakistani regions such as North and South Waziristan, Bajaur and the Swat valley.
As a result, the conflict with the Taliban and the campaign to maintain the current Afghanistan government is much more difficult. The Taliban are able to use these regions in both Afghanistan and Pakistan to hide from US forces, plan new attacks, and set up control. The attacks by the Taliban in Lahore in March 2016, in Peshawar in December 2014, and even the attack on Malala Yousufzai in October 2012, were arguably only possible because the strongholds in Pakistan. It remains to be seen if either country is able to regain some sort of control and security over these regions.
The actual assassination raises some questions regarding the legality of US actions. Although their actions in Afghanistan itself are justified because of the residual arrangements following the 2001 war and its long aftermath, activity in Pakistan is technically not legal under international law as the US is not at war with Pakistan. However, military action from the US would be acceptable if they were invited in by the sovereign government of Pakistan. Pakistan was not notified of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in 2011 and the legality of that particular mission is questionable; it is certainly the same case with the assassination of Mansour.
The legality is especially unclear because it was a drone strike. The legality of drone strikes in general is under scrutiny for a variety of reasons, including the death of civilians as a result of these strikes and the carrying out of military actions in a country where no war is actually taking place. The US and others have been using drones to take out targets they perceive as a threat to their national security since the early 2000s. However, the killing of such a high profile target like Mansour may be enough to refocus the eyes of international lawmakers and enforcers on this issue. Overall, while removing a figure who is inciting and spreading violence is arguably a positive action, there is question over whether it is worth breaking laws to do so.
Mansour’s death also comes with repercussions. For the Taliban it is another blow to an organisation that has recently suffered from factionalism and has now had two leaders killed in quick succession. The new leader has the potential to unite the group or cause more divisions. The world will be keeping a close eye on the Taliban as it remains a prime enemy to many, even with the so called Islamic State recently taking the spotlight.
For Afghanistan, it is a positive move in terms of stability. The Taliban still remains the biggest threat to the current government and is seemingly determined to retake control of the country. For Pakistan, it is a worrying reminder that their borders are not secure and that the Taliban are almost as much of a threat to their own stability as they are to Afghanistan’s. For both countries, it is a significant obstacle for their development and attracting investors. For the US, it is a signal that their use of drones, while controversial, is effective and perhaps serves as evidence enough to keep using them. Finally, for the world, it is a reminder that the Islamic State is not the only Islamist extremist group out there.
The assassination of Mansour is a significant event, particularly for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Further, it is worrying that the Taliban still have a significant presence in the region and cannot be defeated. The fact that the group in its various guises has defied the Soviet Union, the US, and Afghani and Pakistani governments shows that they will not be going anywhere anytime soon.