January27 , 2022

Dead Or Alive? Mystery Over Whereabouts Of Taliban Supreme Leader Deepens

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Hibatullah Akhundzada rose to the highest spot after one such strike killed his predecessor in 2016.

Kandahar, Afghanistan:

When the Taliban overran Kabul in mid-August, seizing energy for the second time, the years-old thriller over the whereabouts of the motion’s Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada deepened additional.

Whether the aged cleric is alive or useless is one thing many Afghans are unsure about, and even essentially the most devoted analysts have doubts about who is absolutely main the group.

AFP went on the path of the elusive chief, and the findings are inconclusive.

On October 30 — two months after a Taliban spokesman insisted Akhundzada was alive and effectively in Kandahar — rumours swirled within the southern metropolis that the “emir” had delivered a speech at a Koranic college, or madrassa.

Taliban officers gave their stamp of authenticity to his look on the Hakimia madrassa, releasing a crackling audio recording lasting greater than 10 minutes.

“May God reward the oppressed people of Afghanistan who fought the infidels and the oppressors for 20 years,” intones an aged and echoing voice, mentioned to be that of Akhundzada.

His public profile had beforehand been largely restricted to annual written messages launched for Islamic holidays.

In one of many poorest suburbs of Kandahar, between a litter-strewn stream and a mud observe, two Taliban fighters stand guard in entrance of the Hakimia madrassa’s blue-and-white gate.

It has turn out to be one thing of a magnet since October 30, attracting curious — albeit respectfully distant — crowds of Taliban supporters.

‘Watching and crying’

When the supreme chief visited, he was “armed” and accompanied by “three security guards”, the madrassa’s head of safety Massum Shakrullah informed AFP.

“Even cellphones and sound recorders” weren’t allowed into the venue, he added.

One of the scholars, Mohammed, 19, mentioned “we all were watching him and were just crying”.

Asked if he might verify that it was undoubtedly Akhundzada, Mohammed mentioned he and his friends have been so overjoyed that they “forgot to watch… his face”.

The want for Taliban leaders to maintain vanishingly low profiles grew to become particularly pronounced within the final decade of battle, as lethal US drone strikes multiplied.

Akhundzada rose to the highest spot after one such strike killed his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, in 2016.

He rapidly secured the backing of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who referred to as him “the emir of the faithful”.

This endorsement by Osama bin Laden’s inheritor helped seal his jihadist credentials with the Taliban’s long-time allies.

The Taliban have launched only one {photograph} of Akhundzada — 5 years in the past, when he took the group’s reins.

And even that photograph, depicting him with a gray beard, white turban and a forceful gaze, was taken 20 years prior, based on the Taliban.  

The supreme chief’s look scotched “rumours and propaganda” about his loss of life, mentioned Maulvi Said Ahmad, who heads the madrassa the place Akhundzada reportedly appeared.

He appeared “exactly the same” as within the well-known photograph, mentioned Mohammad Musa, 13, who watched from afar.

‘Long been useless’

Officials of the ousted Afghan regime and lots of Western analysts are sceptical, believing that Akhundzada died years in the past.

For them the madrassa go to was a rigorously choreographed deception.

There is a precedent — the Taliban pretended founder Mullah Omar was alive for 2 years following his loss of life in 2013. 

Akhundzada himself “has long been dead and had no role before the takeover of Kabul”, one safety official of the previous regime informed AFP.

He was killed alongside his brother in a suicide assault in Quetta, Pakistan, “about three years ago”, the supply believes.

This idea, generally with slight variations, is seen as credible by a number of overseas intelligence companies.

A separate regional safety supply informed AFP that “nobody would confirm and nobody would deny” Akhundzada’s purported loss of life.

The Pentagon and the CIA, in the meantime, didn’t reply to AFP’s request for touch upon the rumours of Akhundzada’s loss of life.

Eminent scholar

In Panjwai, a district on an unlimited arid plateau close to Kandahar, everybody is aware of of the Akhundzadas, a line of revered theologians.

The emir was born within the village of Sperwan.

“At the time of the Soviet invasion (1979) fighting broke out in the village and Hibatullah left for Pakistan,” Niamatullah, a younger fighter and former pupil of the supreme chief, informed AFP.

After this primary transfer to Pakistan, Akhundzada grew to become a revered scholar and earned the title “Sheikh al-Hadith”, a distinction reserved for essentially the most eminent students of the Prophet Mohammed’s sayings.

In the early Nineteen Nineties, because the Islamist insurgency was taking maintain within the wake of the Soviet occupation, Akhundzada, then in his thirties, returned to the village.

He would maintain consultations with guests from “the city and from Pakistan”, remembers Abdul Qayum, a 65-year-old villager.

According to snippets from his official biography, his rise was meteoric after the Taliban took energy in Kabul in 1996.

After working the native madrassa, he grew to become a choose at Kandahar provincial court docket, then head of the navy court docket in Nangarhar in japanese Afghanistan till 2000.

By the time the Taliban have been compelled from energy in late 2001, he was heading Kabul’s navy court docket.

Akhundzada then fled to Pakistan, discovering sanctuary in Quetta.

His mastery of Islamic regulation made him the top of the Taliban’s shadow justice system and the acclaimed coach of an entire technology of fighters who graduated by Quetta.

‘Centre of gravity’

Akhundzada was “the centre of gravity for the Taliban… keeping the group intact”, one Pakistan-based Taliban member informed AFP.

According to this supply, who says he has met the supreme chief thrice — the final time in 2020 — Akhundzada doesn’t use trendy know-how.

He prefers to make telephone calls on landlines and communicates through letters to the Taliban officers who now make up the federal government and with whom he retains a robust rapport.

He would have given the inexperienced gentle to the ultimate offensive in opposition to the previous regime and saved observe of operations from Kandahar, the place he had already been discreetly put in for a number of months, the Pakistani supply mentioned.

The continued worry of elimination, even after the tip of the battle with the Americans, explains Akhundzada’s continued low profile, a number of Taliban sources say.

And if he have been already useless, a regional safety supply mentioned, issues over the rival Sunni extremist group, the Islamic State’s native chapter (IS-Ok), would partially clarify the Taliban concealing the information — as any such announcement might immediate defections.

“If they announce Akhundzada is no more and we are looking for a new emir, it will factionalise the Taliban and IS-K could take advantage,” he mentioned.

Despite the hypothesis, the Taliban insist nothing is untoward.

The emir is “leading in an orderly manner”, a spokesman informed AFP, including “it is not necessary” for him to look publicly.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV employees and is printed from a syndicated feed.)

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