KABUL: The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday announced Haibatullah Akhundzada as their new leader, elevating a low-profile figure in a swift power transition after officially confirming the death of Mullah Mansour in a US drone strike.
The surprise announcement coincided with a Taliban suicide bombing that targeted court employees near Kabul, killing 11 people in an assault that illustrated the potency of the insurgency despite the change of leadership.
Akhundzada, who was formerly one of Mansour’s deputies, is seen as a unifying figure in an increasingly fragmented militant movement, though it remains unclear whether he will follow Mansour in shunning peace negotiations with the Afghan government.
“Haibatullah Akhundzada has been appointed as the new leader of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) after a unanimous agreement in the shura (supreme council), and all the members of shura pledged allegiance to him,” the insurgents said in a statement.
It added that Sirajuddin Haqqani, an implacable foe of US forces, and Mullah Yakoub, the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, were appointed his deputies. Analysts had previously seen them as the most likely candidates for the leadership.
“The leader of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and commander of faithful, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was martyred in a US drone strike in Pakistan’s Balochistan province,” the statement said, in the insurgents’ first confirmation of his death.
Before his killing, Mansour had written a will handpicking Akhundzada to be his successor, Taliban sources told AFP, in an apparent bid to lend legitimacy to his appointment.
“The new leader’s appointment is a good opportunity for the Taliban to return to peace talks and rebuild their country,” Afghan presidential spokesman Dawa Khan Menapal told AFP.
“If they reject peace talks they will face the same fate as Mansour.”- APP