KABUL: The Taliban’s supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada — who has never made a public appearance and whose whereabouts have largely remained unknown — is in Afghanistan, the hardline Islamist group confirmed on Sunday.
“He is present in Kandahar. He has been living there from the very beginning,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. “He will soon appear in public,” added deputy spokesman Bilal Karimi.
The so-called commander of the faithful, Akhundzada has shepherded the Taliban as its chief since 2016 when snatched from relative obscurity to oversee a movement in crisis.
Little is still known about Akhundzada’s day-to-day role, with his public profile largely limited to the release of annual messages during Islamic holidays.
He has yet to issue any kind of statement since the Taliban swept to power and took control of Afghanistan in mid-August. The Taliban have a long history of keeping their top leader in the shadows.
The group’s enigmatic founder Mullah Mohammad Omar was notorious for his hermit ways and rarely travelled to Kabul when the group was in power in the 1990s.
Instead, Omar stayed largely out of sight in his compound in Kandahar, reluctant even to meet visiting delegations.
Kandahar was the birthplace of the militant movement and the epicentre of the Taliban’s iron-fisted Islamist government in the 1990s.
Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2021