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Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada

Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada / Akhunzada, one of Mullah Akhtar Mansour's chief deputies, will assume the top spot. In a Pashto language statement on 25 May 2016, the Tailban also formally confirmed Mansoor was killed in a U.S. drone attack last week. Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada has been appointed as the new leader of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) after a unanimous agreement in the shura (the supreme council), and all the members of shura pledged allegiance to him, the Taliban statement said.

"All the shura (leadership council) members have pledged allegiance to Sheikh Haibatullah in a safe place in Afghanistan," the statement said. "All people are required to obey the new Emir-al-Momineen (commander of the faithful)."

On 11 June 2016 Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri o pledged support for new Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, in a move widely seen by Western analysts as an attempt to limit the growth of the rival Islamic State militancy in Afghanistan. Zawahiri's endorsement came in a 14-minute video posted online. In it, he described Akhundzada as the "emir of believers" and the "legitimate" head of a Muslim caliphate.

Akhundzada replaced Mullah Akhtar Mansoor three days after he was killed in a drone strike in Pakistan 21 May 2016. Akhunzada pledged to take revenge against foreign forces and the Afghan government for Mansoor's killing. A Taliban statement announcing Akhundzada's appointment said that all members of group's leadership council pledged allegiance to the new leader, which was "a religious obligation." The statement also named his two deputies, Mawlawi Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mawlawi Mohammad Yaqoob. These deputies represent the younger, more militant generation of the organization.

Akhundzada's position on talks with the Afghan government was not known. But some see Akhundzada as a religious scholar known for extremist views who is unlikely to back a peace process with Kabul. And some say the leader of the Haqqani terrorist network, Sirajuddin Haqqani will be defacto leader of the Teleban. Haibatullah is described by some Afghan observers as a typical village type Islamic cleric, like the groups founder, Mullah Omar. Some expect his two deputies to play the central role in Taliban military affairs.

Few details have been given regarding the background of Mawlavi Akhundzada, though he is a well-known figure in the group. He is not a new man in Taliban leadership; he was the second deputy of Mullah Mansoor. He is a religious scholar from the founding generation of the Taliban, and was close to Mullah Omar. He is very respected. He's an old man, definitely older than Mullah Omar, who referred to him Akhunzada as his teacher. The new Taliban leader is known to be 'a Stone Age mullah' who strongly believes in the Taliban.

The new Taliban leader belongs to the Noorzai tribe, is in his 50s -- although the Taliban claim he is 47 years old, while other accounts report he is 56-years old -- and hails from the Taliban heartland in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar province. Akhundzada was involved in the mujahedeen struggle against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, though he probably did not participate in frontline military activities.

Between 1996 and 2001, the period of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, he did judicial work, and following the group's fall from power in late 2001 he worked as Taliban Chief Justic. He had been responsible for issuing most of Talibans fatwas providing religious justification for military and terrorist operations. He issued public statements justifying the existence of the extremist Taliban, and their war against the Afghan government and foreign troops present in Afghanistan.

When the Taliban released a statement 29 July 2015 tconfirming that Mullah Mohammad Omar had died 23 April 2013, Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, Omars deputy since 2010, was elected to replace him. His two deputies would be Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada and Sirajuddin Haqqani. With the appointment of Mawlawi Haibatullah, Mansur seemed to be strengthening his Ishaqzai tribes hold over the leadership rather than maintaining a careful tribal balance.

Unlike Mansour, Akhundzada has strong religious credentials as the group attempts to put on a united front. While Mansour had deep roots in the Taliban, joining the movement in its early stages and directing the groups activities during the period that Omars death was kept secret, he lacked the religious legitimacy that Omar had built around himself. Styling himself Amir al-Muminin [commander of the faithful], Omar cultivated an image as a warrior-cleric.

Mullah Mansoor was appointed as the new leader of the Taliban in August 2015 after the announcement of the death of Mullah Omar. The move was rejected by some senior Taliban commanders and led to deadly infighting. A breakaway faction elected its own leader, Mullah Mohammad Rasool Akhund, and battled Taliban under Mansoors leadership. Commenting on the appointment of Akhunzada, the spokesman for the breakaway faction, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, said the decision was taken just among a handful of senior Taliban leaders.

"Akhunzada was appointed in the same way to how Mullah Mansoor was appointed, without consulting with anyone," Manan Niazi told Al Jazeera 25 May 2016. "Mullah Yaqoob has been promoted as well but is powerless and is not knowledgeable enough to lead the Taliban and our movement." Manan Niazi said his breakaway faction will continue to fight against the Taliban under Akhunzada and will not stand united with "the group that has forgotten Mullah Omar's purpose ... God has taken our revenge and Mullah Mansoor got killed. He was a shame to the Taliban movement and was completely opposite to Mullah Omar."




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