Who is Hibatullah Akhundzada? Five things you need to know about the Taliban supreme leader
As Afghanistan reels under a reign of terror with Taliban forces taking over almost all major cities barring Kabul, US struggles to evacuate over 10,000 American citizens from the capital. Defense officials are reportedly trying to strike a deal with the terrorist organization amid nationwide chaos. Meanwhile, the Taliban have threatened to unleash extremist forces unless the US reduces airstrikes.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden has declared that any action from the Taliban that endangers the lives of Americans "will be met with a swift and strong US military response." On August 14, Biden announced that 5,000 additional US troops will be deployed to facilitate the evacuation of Americans from the warring territories, over and above the previously deployed 4,000 members. On the other hand, Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada is yet to make any formal statement about the US troops and citizens in the terror-ravaged country. Barely a month ago, the extremist leader had expressed wishes for a "political settlement" of the conflict in the country "in spite of the military gains and advances".
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Who is Hibatullah Akhundzada?
The 60-year-old Taliban supreme, who has unofficially renamed Afghanistan as Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, further stated, "Every opportunity for the establishment of an Islamic system, peace and security that presents itself will be made use of by the Islamic Emirate. We fully assure neighboring, regional, and world countries that Afghanistan will not permit anyone to pose a security threat to any other country using our soil.”
Akhundzada was appointed the 'Supreme Commander' of the extremist group on May 25, 2016, following the death of his predecessor Akhtar Mohammad Mansour in a US drone strike. He has been serving as an active member of the Taliban since 1996 after pledging his allegiance to the group.
His family migrated during the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
Born in 1961 in the Panjwayi province, Akhundzada is a Pashtun belonging to the Noorzai tribes. His father was a religious scholar who also served as the Imam (priest) at the village mosque. Akhundzada grew up learning the religious scriptures from his father. During the Soviet invasion, his family migrated to Quetta in Pakistan where Akhundzada continued his education.
He started out as a religious teacher
When the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, Akhundzada was appointed as a member of the Department of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Soon afterward, he was assigned the task of training over 100,000 students at the Jihadi Madrasa. He then became the Chief Justice of Shariah Courts, who issued most of the extremist Talibani Fatwas (legal policies) on the civil society. After the US invasion of 2001, he is believed to have laid low in Afghanistan itself, before being promoted to the deputy leader in 2015.
He survived an alleged assassination attempt while his son was killed
According to unconfirmed sources, Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada was shot at from close range by a man disguised among his students. The attempt allegedly failed as the pistol got stuck while the Taliban dealt with the shooter.
In 2017, it was revealed that Akhundzada's son Abdur Rahman was killed in a suicide attack on an Afghan military base, though the information was not confirmed by government officials. Two years later, in 2019, the Taliban leader's brother Hafiz Ahmadullah was killed in a bomb blast.
He was rumored to have died from COVID-19
With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, unverified reports surfaced that Akhundzada had probably succumbed to the disease. However, another source stated that he had gone to Russia for treatment and has recovered. The rumors were refuted by Taliban spokesman in a June 2020 tweet, claiming that Akhundzada had not contracted Covid.
He is Taliban's ultimate authority on religion, politics and military
The religious hardliner has the power of "ultimate authority" on religious, political, and military issues concerning the Taliban.