Why Taliban released only one photo of 'supreme leader' Hibatullah Akhundzada

Published on Aug 28, 2021 05:40 PM IST

A Pakistan-based security analyst told AFP that Hibatullah Akhundzada might emerge in public after the foreign troops leave Afghanistan

Reports said this is the only photo of Hibatullah Akhundzada that was released in 2016 when he was announced the chief. (AP)
Reports said this is the only photo of Hibatullah Akhundzada that was released in 2016 when he was announced the chief. (AP)
By | Written by Poulomi Ghosh

The Taliban fighters have shed the shell of secrecy and made themselves visible in front of the camera, on social media platforms after their takeover of Afghanistan. However, there is one exception and that is regarding their supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada's whereabouts, news agency AFP reported. In an attempt to track Hibatullah Akhundzada since the fall of Kabul, the news agency found that nothing much is known about it. As the group remains tightlipped about his details, they had only released one photograph of their supreme leader, who never made a public appearance.

His day-to-day activities are not known and he only releases an annual message during Islamic holidays. "You will see him soon, God willing," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters this week when asked about Akhundzada's whereabouts.

Who is Hibatullah Akhundzada?

Hibatullah Akhundzada is the chief of the group since 2016. The Kandahar leader who was involved in the Islamist resistance during the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan is more reputed as a religious leader than a military commander. He was announced the successor of Akhtar Mohammad Mansour after Mansour was killed in a US drone strike in 2016. It was said that Akhtar Mohammad Mansour wanted Hibatullah Akhundzada to be his successor.

Reports said during the previous Taliban rule, Hibatullah Akhundzada was the deputy head of its supreme court and after 2001 following the fall of Taliban in Afghanistan, he became the head of the group's council of religious scholars.

Where is Hibatullah Akhundzada?

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was asked about his whereabouts. His reply was: "You will see him soon, God willing."

"Akhundzada's absence follows years of rumours about his health, with chatter in Pakistan and Afghanistan suggesting he had contracted Covid or had been killed in a bombing. There has never been much in the way to prove these rumours, but Akhundzada's secrecy comes at a sensitive time for the erstwhile insurgency," AFP wrote.

Why this shroud of secrecy

This is not new for Taliban leadership as most of the top leaders have remained in the shadows for years. Founder Mullah Mohammad Omar was an enigmatic figure who was reluctant to even meet visitors. There might be many reasons for this style and security concerns is one of them. "The Taliban consider themselves in a state of jihad as long as foreign troops are on Afghan soil and will likely keep their leader hidden until they leave. That's why the supreme leader is not surfacing," Pakistan-based security analyst Imtiaz Gul told AFP.

(With agency inputs)

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