Place of Birth: Afghanistan;
Hibatullah Akhundzada (also known by the honorifics Mawlawi and Mullah) is an Afghan religious leader who is the third supreme leader of the Taliban terrorist group and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Akhundzada was born in 1961 in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar Province in the Kingdom of Afghanistan. He was a Pashtun, he belongs to the Noorzai clan or tribe. His first name, Hibatullah, means “gift from God” in Arabic.
His father, Muhammad Akhund, was a religious scholar and imam at the Malook mosque in Safid Rawan village.
The family migrated to Quetta in the Balochistan province of Pakistan after the Soviet invasion and Akhundzada studied at one of the madrassas (Islamic seminaries) there.
In the 1980s, he was “involved in the Islamist resistance” to the Soviet military campaign in Afghanistan.
The Taliban terrorist group call him the Amir al-Mu’minin (Commander of the Faithful), which was the title of his two predecessors.
Akhundzada is well-known for his fatwas on Taliban’s matters. He served as the head of the Sharia courts of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Unlike many Taliban leaders, he has no military experience. He was elected as the leader of the Taliban in May 2016, following the death of the previous leader, Akhtar Mansour, in a drone strike.
In 1994, he became one of the early members of the Taliban. After they gained control of Farah Province in 1995, he was part of the vice and virtue police there.
Later, he was the head of the Taliban’s military court in eastern Nangarhar Province and then the deputy head of the Supreme Court.
He later moved to Kandahar where he was an instructor at the Jihadi Madrasa, a seminary that Taliban founding leader Mohammed Omar looked after.
After the Taliban government fell to the US-led invasion in 2001, Akhundzada became the head of the group’s council of religious scholars.
He was later appointed as Chief Justice of the Sharia Courts of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and became an advisor to Taliban leader Omar.
Rather than a military commander, he has a reputation as a religious leader who was responsible for issuing most of the Taliban’s fatwas and settling religious issues among members of the Taliban.
Both Omar and Akhtar Mansour, his successor as supreme leader, consulted Akhundzada on matters of fatwa. Akhundzada was a senior member of the Taliban’s Quetta Shura.
He was appointed as one of two deputy leaders of the Taliban under Mansour in 2015. He was the most visible face of the Taliban’s top leadership, as Mansour mostly stayed out of public view and did not openly attend meetings for security reasons, and the other deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, was mostly involved in military affairs.
Akhundzada put in place a system under which a commission would be formed under the shadow governor in every province that could investigate abusive commanders or fighters, according to Abdul Bari, a commander in Helmand Province.
Akhundzada was reportedly living in the Ghaus Abad area of Quetta in 2016 and leading up to ten madrassas in Balochistan.
Taliban Supreme Leader
Akhundzada was appointed the Taliban supreme leader on 25 May 2016, succeeding Mansour, who had been killed in a US drone strike.
Two leading contenders for the role were Sirajuddin Haqqani, Mansour’s other deputy, and Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of founding leader Mohammad Omar.
Akhundzada’s appointment surprised some, who saw him as the third ranked candidate, but a compromise choice to avoid resentment if either of the others was appointed.
Taliban sources said that Mansour had designated Akhundzada as his successor in his will, though this may have been an invention to try to confer authority on his appointment.
Yaqoob and Haqqani were appointed as Akhundzada’s two deputies. Abdul Razaq Akhund and Abdul Sata Akhund pledged their support to Akhundzada in December 2016.
Yousef Ahmadi, the Taliban’s main spokesmen for southern Afghanistan, said that Akhundzada’s younger son Abdur Rahman had died carrying out a suicide attack on an Afghan military base in Gereshk in Helmand Province in July 2017
Taliban officials said that Akhundzada had been aware of his son’s intention and approved of it.
In 2019, under the leadership of Akhundzada, Taliban won the Battle of Darzab by defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s Khorasan branch.
In May 2021, Akhundzada called the Afghan people to unite for the development of an Islamic state once the United States forces withdraw.
In August 2021, forces under his nominal command began a general offensive seeking to achieve a final victory in the war.
During the leadership of Akhundzada, the United States troops withdrew, and the Taliban gained control of Kabul.
On 18 August, it was announced that based on the general amnesty issued by Akhundzada, “it was decided to release political detainees from all prisons of Afghanistan”.
By the time, the Taliban has already taken control of key prisons across the country and freed thousands of inmates, including Islamic State terrorists, al-Qaeda members and senior Taliban terrorists.
With little known about Akhundzada and the lack of any photographs in the aftermath of the fall of Kabul, questions were raised whether he was alive and remained leader.
There had been rumors in February 2021 that he was killed in an explosion in Pakistan, but this was dismissed by the Taliban.
Media reports after the fall of Kabul suggested that he was in the custody of the Pakistani Army. However, on 21 August, the Taliban told The Sunday Guardian that Akhundzada was alive and based in Kandahar.
Assassination attempts on Akhundzada:
Two attempts have been made to assassinate Akhundzada. One was in Quetta in 2012. According to Mullah Ibrahim, “During one of his lectures in Quetta…, a man stood among the students and pointed a pistol at Mawlawi Haibatullah from a close range, but the pistol stuck.
He was trying to shoot him, but he failed, and the Taliban rushed to tackle” the man. Ibrahim added that Akhundzada did not move in the chaos.
The Taliban accused the National Directorate of Security, the Afghan intelligence agency, of the attempted shooting.
During the Friday prayer on 16 August 2019, a powerful blast tore through a grand mosque in Balochistan province in Pakistan, killing Akhundzada’s brother Hafiz Ahmadullah and their father.
Ahmadullah had succeeded Akhundzada as leader of the Khair-ul-Madarais Mosque, which had served as the main meeting place of the Quetta Shura, after Akhundzada was appointed as the Taliban emir.
More of Akhundzada’s relatives were later confirmed to have died in the blast. The High Council of Afghanistan Islamic Emirate claimed responsibility for the attack, adding that the prime target was Akhundzada.