Mullah Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada

Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada is the emir (leader) of the Taliban, successor to Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. Akhundzada’s appointment to the position was announced by the Taliban’s senior leadership on May 25, 2016, following the death of Mansour in a U.S. drone strike in southwestern Pakistan on May 21, 2016. As the emir of the Taliban, Akhundzada is responsible for overseeing the courts and judges.Abubakar Siddique, “The Quetta Shura: Understanding the Afghan Taliban’s Leadership,” Terrorism Monitor 12, no. 4 (February 21, 2014), http://www.jamestown.org/programs/tm/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=42006&cHash=7af7678306a23ff6734f35e261b15b90#.VTVCgy HBzGc. He also oversees the 11 Taliban commissions, which deal with the military, politics, culture, economics, health, education, outreach and guidance, prisoners, non-governmental organizations, martyrs and disabled persons, and civilian casualties.“Fifth report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team, submitted pursuant to resolution 2160 (2014) concerning the Taliban and other associated individuals and entities constituting a threat to the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan,” United Nations Security Council, December 11, 2014, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2014/888.

Before rising to the position of emir, Akhundzada had served as a deputy leader to Mullah Mansour. He was considered a key cleric and spiritual guide within the Taliban, but reportedly lacks any military experience.Mujib Mashal, “Taliban Name New Leader After Confirming Predecessor Died in U.S. Strike,” New York Times, May 25, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/26/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-new-leader.html. During the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, Akhundzada served as a top judge in the Taliban’s sharia court system, both in Kandahar and in the supreme court in Kabul.Mujib Mashal, “Taliban Name New Leader After Confirming Predecessor Died in U.S. Strike,” New York Times, May 25, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/26/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-new-leader.html. Following the Taliban’s fall from power, Akhundzada reportedly served as the Taliban’s Chief Justice.Masoud Popalzai and Euan McKirdy, “Taliban's new leader described as educated, well-respected,” CNN, May 25, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/25/middleeast/new-taliban-leader-announced.

Little else is publicly known about Akhunzada, other than that he was born in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province and comes from the Noorzai tribe.Mujib Mashal, “Taliban Name New Leader After Confirming Predecessor Died in U.S. Strike,” New York Times, May 25, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/26/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-new-leader.html. According to sources from within the Taliban, Akhundzada is well-educated, well-liked, and may be amenable to entering into peace negotiations with the Afghan government. Akhundzada is believed to have been responsible for negotiating the Taliban’s temporary ceasefire with the Afghan government in early 2016.Masoud Popalzai and Euan McKirdy, “Taliban's new leader described as educated, well-respected,” CNN, May 25, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/25/middleeast/new-taliban-leader-announced.

Akhundzada’s relative anonymity has reportedly served as a factor in the Taliban’s decision to elevate him. Previously, many had assumed that more well-known figures, like Haqqani network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, would succeed Mullah Mansour. Akhundzada, on the other hand, may have been seen by the Taliban leadership as a significantly less public and controversial choice than Haqqani, both major assets as the group seeks to shield its leadership from detection by authorities, as well as retain control over its internal factions.Mujib Mashal, “Taliban Name New Leader After Confirming Predecessor Died in U.S. Strike,” New York Times, May 25, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/26/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-new-leader.html.

 
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On July 23, 2016, two suicide bombers targeted members of Afghanistan’s Hazara ethnic minority who were demonstrating in Kabul. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed at least 97 people and injured 260 others. 

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