Not seen for a long time, Taliban’s supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada made a rare appearance in Kandahar, sources in the Taliban told news agency Reuters on Sunday (October 31).
Akhundzada, who as supreme leader is the leader of Taliban’s political, religious, and military affairs, had not been seen in public since Taliban took over Afghanistan in August following the abrupt withdrawal of US forces from the country. This had set off rumour mills about his death, which the Taliban has denied.
On Saturday, Akhundzada visited a religious school, Jamia Darul Aloom Hakimia, in Kandahar, making a rare public appearance in a long time, a source told Reuters.
A hardline cleric, Akhundzada rose to become a senior judge of the Sharia law and was a close confidant of Taliban’s founder Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Following the killing of then-Taliban Supreme Leader Akhtar Mansour in a drone strike in May 2016, Akhundzada was made the top leader of the group in a surprise decision, which many believe was supposed to quell resentment and factionalism between two groups.
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In May 2021, after Taliban held talks with various stakeholders, Akhundzada had called for an inclusive Islamic system in Afghanistan, asking all rival groups to end opposition and discord.
On August 15, after the Taliban took over Kabul, he issued a statement saying there would be an independent, stable Islamic rule in the country.
“After the withdrawal of all foreign forces from our country, we would like to establish good relations with the world, including the United States,” he was quoted as saying by Taliban media in July.
Under his leadership, Taliban ensured good diplomatic relations, an aspect negotiated with foreign countries by his trusted deputy Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
However, since mid-September, there has been no news of him, which gave rise to speculation that he was ill or dead.
According to observers, Akhundzada was a guiding hand, who helped united divisive factions and managed the transfer of power and military might from the US.