09/07/2021, 09.39
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Akhundzada, the supreme mullah of the Taliban

by Vladimir Rozanskij

A mujahed in the fight against the Soviet occupation, he will be the "spiritual" head of the new Afghan Islamic Emirate. Member of the powerful Nurzai family. An intermediary figure beween the political and military soul of the Taliban.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - The "supreme guide" of Afghanistan it has been announced will be Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, 60 years old from Kandahar, of the Pashtun Nurzai tribe, in turn the son and grandson of mullahs active in rural areas. He is well known in Russia from the time of Soviet occupation. As a young mujahed he took part in the fight against the invasion of Moscow, and many Russian media gave great space to his story.

Vasilij Kravtsov, political advisor of the UN mission in Afghanistan, talks about him in the Novaja Gazeta. He recalls that "the Nurzai have been in all these years the most aggressive armed force in all of Afghanistan". Akhundzada went through all the stages of Muslim religious training, and during the anti-Soviet jihad he was the main preacher of the various mujaheddin troops, whom he visited non-stop to motivate them for the holy war.

As Kravtsov recalls, "his activity focused on the spiritual and psychological motivation of the youth in the armed bands, to strengthen the ideal of jihad." The mullah proposed himself above tribal affiliations, even though he was always accompanied and supported by his Nurzai: "Because in Afghanistan it is impossible to detach oneself from the group of origin".

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Akhundzada approached the Taliban. He preached to groups in the "Islamic Revolution Movement of Afghanistan" of Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi, a mujaheddin leader who died in 2002. After Taliban forces took Kabul in 1996, Akhundzada became a member of the Taliban Department "for promoting virtue and countering vice."

The mullah was never an actual fighter, let alone a military leader. He has, however, established himself as a religious authority at the top of the Taliban: in 2001, the radical Islamist group proclaimed him head of its council of ulema (theologians); then in 2016, the movement named him supreme leader. Since then, Akhundzada has not appeared in public, and the media have announced his death on multiple occasions, including from coronavirus in 2020.

The contrasts between the various military commanders, which have repeatedly risked provoking a bloody internal settling of accounts, have favored his rise to the top of the fundamentalist group. Some U.S. operations conducted with drones to eliminate the various Taliban leaders would have been successful thanks to the tips from their competitors in the movement. In the end, his status as an "outsider" to the military leadership made Akhundzada's choice almost inevitable.

His rank as "supreme mullah" (mujahlawi) allows him to open autonomous madrassas (Koranic schools), what he accomplished in Quetta in Pakistani Balochistan, where he lived for a few years with his family. Now Akhundzada will be the "supreme arbiter" of Afghan affairs, in a much more detached way than the Iranian Supreme Ayatollah. His deputies will govern in the composition of the government, which in turn will be defined by the compromise between the military leaders.

It is therefore premature to define what the Taliban policy in Afghanistan could be: it will emerge from the internal confrontation, provided that the dispute does not degenerate again into clashes between rival bands. Certainly the economic policy is determined by the catastrophic financial situation. In 42 years of uninterrupted war, Afghanistan has never actually starved, thanks to subsidies from the Soviets, the United States and various partners. The traders are a very powerful lobby, an upper middle class, not to mention the drug producers and traffickers, capable of adapting to every change of political regime and every religious ideology.

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