Who is Taliban Supreme Leader Sheikh Haibatullah Akhundzada?

Taliban officials have indicated that Sheikh Haibatullah is the supreme authority of the new Islamic government. Who is he exactly?

Sheikh Haibatullah took over as the Supreme leader of the Taliban after his predecessor, Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a US drone strike right by the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2016. Born and raised in the Panjwayi district just outside Kandahar, he grew up studying in madrassas or religious schools. His family later moved to the Balochistan province of Pakistan after the Soviet invasion.

Later in the 1980s, Sheikh Haibatullah joined young religious students to fights the Soviets as part of the ‘Islamist resistance’. He continued his studies at a madrassa in Pakistan, and grew to become the religious ‘adviser’ of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammed Omar, and gradually reached the status of sheikh ul-hadith or outstanding religious scholar and mawlawi — two of the most senior religious titles.

His association with the Taliban traces back to when it was first founded in the 1990s following the withdrawal of Soviet troops. Due to his scholarly background, he is known more as a religious leader than a military commander. But when the Taliban captured Afghanistan’s Farah province, he was appointed to oversee law and order in the area. He was later appointed to the Taliban’s military court in Kandahar and eventually transferred to the Nangarhar province where he headed the military court.

A permanent fixture in Taliban courts, he is associated with several of the militant group’s fatwas, including one in support of extreme Islamic punishments, such as public executions of convicted murderers and adulterers.

Sheikh Haibatullah is expected to serve as the supreme leader, with a theocratic role similar to that of Iran’s supreme leader, the New York Times reported. “Consultations are almost finalized on the new government, and the necessary discussions have also been held about the cabinet,” a member of Taliban’s Cultural Commission said in an interview with Afghanistan’s Tolo News. “The Islamic government that we will announce will be a … model for the people. There is no doubt about the presence of the Commander of the Faithful (Akhunzada) in the government. He will be the leader of the government and there should be no question on this.

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