Since Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar headed the Taliban’s political office in Doha and is now tipped to be the new President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, people unaware of the hierarchical structure of the Taliban have considered him as the Taliban’s leader.
However, Mullah Baradar is not the head of the Taliban and remains answerable to the Taliban’s Amir ul Momineen (Leader of the Faithful), Maulvi Hibatullah Akhundzada.
Maulvi Hibatullah Akhundzada
Akhundzada replaced Mullah Akhtar Mansour as Amir ul Momineen after the latter was killed by a US drone attack near Ahmad Wal, close to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Considered more a religious leader rather than a military commander or a politician, Akhundzada is famous for issuing fatwas (non binding legal opinions) for the Taliban, determining the limits of what they can and cannot do from an Islamic perspective.
He belongs to the Noorzai tribe and has spent most of his life in Afghanistan, although, sources have claimed that he had also lived in Pakistan.
It has also been claimed that Akhundzada is closely affiliated with the Quetta Shura, a group of Afghan Taliban leaders who are said to operate from Quetta, Baluchistan in Pakistan. It has also been alleged that the Quetta Shura is controlled by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Akhundzada was involved in the Soviet war since the 1980s, where he operated as a resistance fighter. When the Taliban was formed by Mullah Omar, Akhundzada was one of the first members to join the militant group.
Despite his experience managing religious affairs, Akhundzada has also shown military prowess after he was made in charge of all the fighting in the Farah province after it was captured by the Taliban. Akhundzada has also served as the head of the Taliban’s military court in the Nangarhar province before rising to the post of Chief Justice of the Sharia Courts in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
He has also led the training of over 100,000 students in a Madrassah (religious seminary) preparing students for Jihad (holy war).
Akhundzada is famous for setting up a system of ‘Shadow Governors” where Taliban leaders were appointed as shadow governors in every province even if it was under the control of the now defunct Afghan Army or US forces. The shadow governors investigated abusive commanders in their respective provinces.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Yousef Ahmadi confirmed that on 20 July 2017, Akhundzada’s son Abdur Rahman died after carrying out a suicide attack on an Afghan military base in the Helmand province. While Rahman’s death could not be confirmed by Afghan officials, it reflects that Akhundzada may condone suicide bombings for political gains.
In all religious, political and financial matters pertaining to the Taliban, Maulvi Hibatullah Akhundzada has the final say.