Why Mullah Akhund emerged as top name for Taliban govt? There's a Pak connection
Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund, the chief of the Taliban's powerful decision-making body, will be Afghanistan's new head of state with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Mullah Abdus Salam working as his deputies, a Pakistani media report said on Tuesday. The Taliban’s top leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada proposed Akhund’s name, The News International reported, citing Taliban leaders familiar with the developments.
Akhund’s name as the Taliban government’s head comes days after Pakistan's spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) director general Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed flew to Kabul on an unannounced visit last week. During his visit, the ISI chief had met Mullah Baradar and Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to what reports said was to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan.
On Monday, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference said that a new Afghan government would be announced soon without specifying any date. Mujahid also denied there were any disagreements within the Taliban leadership about the formation of a new government. "Final decisions have been taken, we are now working on the technical issues," he said at a press conference.
Differences within the Taliban?
Before this, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar’s name cropped as the leader of the new government in Afghanistan. Baradar was a close friend of the Taliban's reclusive original leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. He served as deputy defence minister when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan. Baradar served as a senior military commander responsible for attacks on coalition forces after the last Taliban government fell, a UN sanctions notice said.
He was arrested and imprisoned in Pakistan by the ISI in 2010. He was released in 2018 and became the head of the Taliban's political office in Doha. He was one of the most prominent figures in peace talks with the United States.
The Taliban have deferred the government formation at least twice amid reports of a power struggle between the group’s co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Anas Haqqani, according to several reports. The disagreement among the Taliban leaders was over the handling of Panjshir, where resistance forces have dug out against the group.
According to the unverified Twitter handle of Panjshir Observer, which describes itself as an independent news outlet, there was a gunfight last Friday in Kabul. "Gunfire last night in Kabul was a power struggle between two senior Taliban leaders. Forces loyal to Anas Haqqani and Mullah Baradar fought over a disagreement on how to resolve the #Panjshir situation. Mullah Baradar was reportedly injured and is receiving treatment in Pakistan," Panjshir Observer tweeted on Saturday.
Who are the leaders who will be part of the Taliban government?
Mullah Akhund is the head of the Rehbari Shura or leadership council—Taliban’s powerful decision-making body—which serves like a government cabinet running all the group's affairs with the approval of the top leader. Mullah Akhund has worked for two decades as the head of Rehbari Shura and is close to Mullah Akhundzada. “He worked for 20 years as head of Rehbari Shura and earned himself a very good reputation. He is a religious leader rather than a military background and is known for his character and devotion,” one of the Taliban leaders was quoted as saying by the Pakistani newspaper.
Mullah Akhund belongs to Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, and was among the founders of the armed movement, according to The News International. Mullah Akhund was the foreign minister and the deputy prime minister during the Taliban's previous government in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the Haqqani Network and a specially designated global terrorist, may become the interior minister and Mullah Ameer Khan Muttaqi will be the new foreign minister, according to the Taliban leaders who spoke to The News International.
According to the FBI website, the US department of state is offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading directly to the arrest of Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is thought to be in Pakistan and maintains close ties with the Taliban and al Qaeda. He is wanted for questioning in connection with the January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul that killed six people, including an American citizen. He is believed to have coordinated and participated in cross-border attacks against the US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
He was also allegedly involved in the planning of the assassination attempt on the Afghan president Hamid Karzai in 2008, according to the FBI website.
Mullah Yaqoob, son of the Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, will be the new defence minister, the paper said. Yaqoob was a student of Mullah Akhundzada, who earlier appointed him as head of the Taliban’s powerful military commission. He was named as overall head of the Taliban military commission last year, overseeing all military operations in Afghanistan. Considered a relative moderate by some Western analysts, he is still in his early 30s and does not have long combat experience of the Taliban's main battlefield commanders.
The newspaper also said Zabiullah Mujahid, whose name was earlier proposed for information minister, will now be the spokesperson for the new head of state.