Taliban’s New Leader Taking Low-Key Role

Religious Scholar Seen Shunning High-Profile Actions of Predecessor

by Jason Ditz, July 12, 2016

Two months since being appointed as the third leader of the Taliban, Maulawi Habitullah Akhundzada has defined his reign as a much more hands-off leader, taking a very low-key approach to day-to-day operations within the insurgency, and trusting commanders to handle things on the field.

Akhundzada, a major religious scholar who was Afghanistan’s Chief Justice for religious courts before the 2001 US invasion and occupation, had no real experience with fighting, and had served primarily as a religious instructor for recruits. That he is respected by so many commanders as a religious scholar was the main reason he was selected as the leader in May, after the US assassinated Mullah Mansour.

Mansour was a very divisive leader for the Taliban, trying to put his stamp on the organization and fighting intense battles with rival Mullah Rasool over who the real successor to Taliban founder Mullah Omar was. Akhundzada, by contrast, was seen as a compromise candidate, and a potential unified.

Though a lot of Rasool’s base has remained split from the Taliban, and many continue to insist Akhundzada isn’t the right leader, though he seems to be hoping that his softer approach to leadership will wear down resistance in a way Mansour’s open combat with rivals never did.

Akhundzada is seen by some as a return to the Mullah Omar era, when very little was known about the Taliban’s top leadership or the decision-making process. With the insurgency gaining considerable momentum in recent months, he seems content to stay out of the way and let the territorial gains continue to mount.

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