Islamic scholar, author, cleric, leader
Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada was named Taliban commander in 2016 after the previous leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, was assassinated in a US drone strike. Akhunzada is best known as a religious leader who oversaw schools where many Taliban members received their education. He has been named the head of the newly declared Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (formerly the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan) after the withdrawal of US troops in 2021.
Akhundzada was born in the Panjwayi region of Kandahar Province, Afghaistan. He is a Nurzai Pashtun from the Nurzai tribe. Hibatullah is an Arabic name that means “gift from God.” Muhammad Akhund, his father, was a religious scholar and imam at Safid Rawan’s Malook Mosque.
Akhundzada is a former Mujahideen member who fought against the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. However, he was known for his religious teachings rather than military leadership at the time. During the Taliban’s establishment in the 1990s, he continued to work as a religious counselor, and once the Taliban took control of western Farah province, he was put in charge of reducing crime in the area.
Later, he became the chairman of the military court, which settles conflicts amongst Taliban members. He served as both the head of the Taliban’s council of religious experts and a teacher in a town near the Pakistani border for 15 years after the US invasion in 2001, until his mysterious disappearance in 2016.
Following the withdrawal of the United States in 2021 and the Taliban’s subsequent takeover, Akhundzada has been named the leader of the newly declared Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Akhundzada avoids public speaking and even avoids being photographed—he has yet to be seen in public—but he has published several statements describing how the Taliban will rule more inclusively and differently than before.
On 14 September 2021, it was revealed that Akhundzada had not been seen in public since the Taliban took control of Kabul, leading to speculation that he had died. The death of the Taliban’s founding leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was previously concealed for two years.
According to Taliban sources, Akhundzada made a public appearance on October 30, 2021, at the Darul Uloom Hakimah madrassa in Kandahar. There were no images or videos posted, but Taliban social media channels shared a ten-minute audio recording, refuting rumors of his death.