Explained: All you need to know about the leaders of the new Taliban government

After recent infighting between the so-called moderate and hardliner factions of the Taliban, the appointment of the respected but largely low-profile Mohammad Hasan Akhund as Prime Minister is being seen as a compromise.

The Taliban has appointed Mohammad Hasan Akhund as the acting Prime Minister of the new Afghan government, with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Mullah Abdus Salam as his deputies.

Meanwhile, Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada has no official role in the government but remains the Supreme Leader of the Taliban and is said to have overseen the creation of the group’s cabinet.

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Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, Taliban Supreme Leader

Akhundzada, the Supreme Leader of the Taliban since 2016, has never made a public appearance and little is known about him. He is believed to be in his 60s, and to have spent most of his life living in Afghanistan. In the 1980s, he participated in the Islamic resistance against the Soviet invasion and after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, was appointed as the Chief Justice of the country’s Sharia courts.

Akhundzada is said to be a political hardliner, who, as the Taliban’s chief religious authority, issued several fatwas. As Supreme Leader, he is in charge of political, military, and religious affairs.

Mohammad Hasan Akhund, Prime Minister

Like Akhundzada, not much is known about Akhund, whose appointment as Prime Minister surprised some observers who expected to see Baradar or Sirajuddin Haqqani take on the role. After recent infighting between the so-called moderate and hardliner factions of the Taliban, the appointment of the respected but largely low-profile Akhund as Prime Minister is being seen as a compromise.

Akhund is one of the four men who founded the Taliban in 1994 and was known to be a close associate of the group’s first Supreme Leader, Mullah Omar, and current leader, Akhundzada. During the Taliban’s first stint in power, between 1996 and 2001, Akhund served as Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister and then Deputy Prime Minister.

For the last 20 years, he headed the Taliban’s powerful decision-making body, the Rehbari Shura. Unlike Akhundzada, who is seen as a religious authority, Akhund is primarily a political figure, deriving much of his legitimacy from his prominent role in the Taliban pre-9/11.

Abdul Ghani Baradar, Deputy Prime Minister

A noteworthy Mujahadeen fighter during the Soviet occupation, Baradar was very close to Omar, helping him form the Taliban and going on to marry his sister. After the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Baradar became a lynchpin of the Taliban insurgency until he was captured in Pakistan in 2010. He remained in prison for eight years before being released as part of a plan to facilitate the peace process between the Afghan National Government and the Taliban.

In 2019, Baradar was appointed the head of the group’s political office in Qatar and represented the Taliban during the Doha negotiations and failed inter-Afghan peace talks. In that capacity, Baradar became the de-facto public face of the Taliban and was seen as a moderating presence internationally.

In 2020, he became the first Taliban leader to directly communicate with a US President. Days after the group’s agreement with the US, he was described by then-President Trump as “very good.” In July, Baradar also met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing.

Baradar was widely expected to assume the role of Prime Minister but was reportedly taken out of contention after being injured amid an internal disagreement between factions loyal to him and those aligned with Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, Interior Minister

Perhaps one of the more extremist members of the Taliban, Sirajjudin Haqqani is the head of the influential Haqqani network, a subset of the Taliban based out of Pakistan. The group, designated by the US as a terrorist organisation, oversees the Taliban’s financial and military assets along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

Haqqani himself is on the FBI’s most wanted list and has a bounty of $10 million on his head. According to the FBI website, Haqqani is wanted in connection with a 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul that killed six people, and the planning of a failed assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2008, along with other activities.

In an opinion piece for the New York Times, written before the signing of the Doha Agreement, Haqqani projected a more moderate stance. He wrote that the Taliban aspired to build an “Islamic system in which all Afghans have equal rights, where the rights of women that are granted by Islam — from the right to education to the right to work — are protected, and where merit is the basis for equal opportunity.”

However, despite his public statements, Haqqani’s prominence in the Taliban will be worrying for international observers, due to his connection to terrorism and his affiliation with Al Qaeda. According to a 2020 UN report, the Haqqani network maintains close contact with Al Qaeda, which is believed to currently have between 400 and 600 members active in Afghanistan.

Moreover, Haqqani’s extremist tendencies are evident in his own writings. In 2010, he released a training manual for the insurgency in which he supports the use of beheadings and suicide bombings while also legitimising attacking Western targets.

Mullah Yaqoob, Defence Minister

The son of Omar, Yaqoob made a play for the position of Supreme Leader in 2016 and was reportedly furious when the role went to Akhundzada instead. Despite being in his mid-30s and lacking the kind of combat experience his fellow Taliban members possess, Yaqoob is currently in charge of all military operations. He holds a lot of clout for his association with Omar and like Baradar, is considered to be a moderate voice within the Taliban.

During the Taliban’s takeover of the country, Yaqoob reportedly urged fighters not to harm members of the Afghan military and government and to avoid looting abandoned properties.

Amir Khan Muttaqi, Foreign Minister

Another moderate voice, Muttaqi served as Minister of Culture and Information and Minister of Education during the previous Taliban government. Like Baradar, Muttaqi was also sent to Qatar and was a member of the negotiating team during the Doha talks.

Muttaqi was the chair of the Invitation and Guidance Commission during the insurgency and in that capacity, was in charge of Taliban propaganda. He was responsible for efforts to get government officials and other prominent figures to defect. When the Taliban conducted their advance, Muttaqi called for a peaceful settlement to hostilities.

Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, Deputy Foreign Minister

Better known internationally than Muttaqi, Stanikzai trained as an Afghan Army officer in India and will presumably be responsible for establishing the Taliban’s relations with New Delhi.

During the Soviet invasion, he defected from the Army to join the Islamic movements, but was reportedly at odds with Omar over his Westernised lifestyle and penchant for consuming alcohol. As a result, Stanikzai was removed as Minister of Foreign Affairs and was instead assigned the less-important post of Minister of Health.

However, since 2012, he has played a crucial role in the Taliban’s diplomatic outreach and has travelled to several countries on behalf of the group. In an interview with Firstpost, Stanikzai stressed his desire to establish friendly relations across the region and claimed that Hindus and Sikhs could continue to live peacefully in Afghanistan.

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