The Afghan Taliban named Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s successor on Wednesday as the group confirmed the late chief was killed in a US drone strike in Balochistan last week.
The new leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, is one of the two deputies of Mansour. A scholar known for his extremist views, Akhundzada is unlikely to back a peace process with Kabul.
In a statement sent to the media, the Taliban said he was chosen at a meeting of their leaders, which is believed to have taken place in Pakistan, but offered no other details.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan announces that Mullah Akhtar Mansour embraced shahadat in a US drone strike in the border region near Kandahar’s Registan and Balochistan’s Naushki area,” a statement from the Taliban said.
Sirajuddin Haqqani and Maul vi Yakub have been appointed as deputy chiefs.
Mansour was appointed head of the Taliban last July following the revelation that the group’s founder Mullah Omar had been dead for two years. The election of a new leader took time as the Rahbari Shura wanted to evolve a broad-based consensus to avoid any controversy, said the Taliban leaders.
Local media reports said senior members of the Taliban had been keenly aware of the need to appoint a candidate who could bring rival factions together and repair the splits that emerged last year when Mansour was appointed.
Pakistan Army chief general Raheel Sharif warned that the recent US drone strike targeting Mansour is detrimental to bilateral relations between Pakistan and the US.
Akhundzada is a religious scholar who served as the Taliban’s chief justice before his appointment as a deputy to Mansour. He is known for issuing public statements justifying the existence of the extremist group, their war against the Afghan government and the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.
His views are regarded as hawkish, and he could be expected to continue in the aggressive footsteps of Mansour, at least in the early days of his leadership.
He was close to Mullah Omar, who consulted with him on religious matters. A convincing orator, Akhunzada was born in Kandahar — the capital during the Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime.
A member of the Noorzai tribe, he is said to be aged around 50 years, and comes from a line of religious scholars. He leads a string of madrasas, or religious schools — figures in the Taliban say up to 10 — across Pakistan’s southwester n Baluchistan province.
A former foreign minister under the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Ghous, told The Associated Press that the choice of Akhundzada was “a very wise decision.”
Akhundzada was well respected among Taliban of all ranks, and could be a unifying force for the fractured movement, Ghous said. (With agency inputs)