Tuesday 23 January 2018

Taliban appoints a new leader in Afghanistan

Haibatullah Akhundzada: new head of Taliban in Afghanistan (Reuters)
Haibatullah Akhundzada: new head of Taliban in Afghanistan (Reuters)

Mirwaus Harooni

The Afghan Taliban has named an Islamic legal scholar, who was one of former leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour's deputies, to succeed him, after confirming Mansour's death in a US drone strike at the weekend.

Within an hour of the announcement, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked a shuttle bus carrying court employees west of the Afghan capital, Kabul, killing as many as 11 people.

The new Taliban leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, was named in a UN report last year as the former chief of the sharia-based justice system under the Taliban's five-year rule over Afghanistan, which ended with their ousting in 2001.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of a feared network that is blamed for many deadly bomb attacks in Kabul in recent years, and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, will serve as his deputies.

Akhundzada, who is believed to be around 60 years of age and a member of the powerful Noorzai tribe, was a close aide to Omar. He is from Kandahar, in the south of Afghanistan and the heartland of the Taliban.

However, there was no indication of whether the appointment would lead to a shift in the stance of the Taliban, which, under Mansour, had ruled out participating in peace talks with the Kabul government.

The Taliban has made big gains since NATO forces ended their main combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, and now controls more of the country than at any time since it was toppled by US-led forces in 2001.

Irish Independent

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