The Taliban have appointed Mullah Hassan Akhund, the senior leader of the movement, to lead the new caretaker government in Afghanistan.
Akhund hails from Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban movement. He had already served as deputy foreign minister, deputy prime minister and the governor of Kandahar during the Taliban’s last stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
Addressing a press conference in Kabul on Tuesday, Taliban top spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that the new interim government will be led by Mullah Hassan Akhund — head of state.
He is the co-founder of the Taliban movement and was a close aide of the late Taliban founder Mullah Omar.
He studied in various seminaries of Afghanistan and Pakistan and is believed to be in his mid-60s and possibly older. A European Union sanctions notice puts him as old as 76.
Akhund is the longtime head of the Taliban’s powerful decision-making body Rehbari Shura or the leadership council.
Analysts see Akhund as a political figure, with his control over the leadership council also giving him a say in military affairs.
“He is very old in age, he is the oldest person in (senior) Taliban ranks,” a Taliban source told Reuters.
He also provided financial and logistics supports to the movement and also established contacts with officials of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
A UN sanctions report describes him as having been a “close associate and political adviser” to Omar, and one of the Taliban’s most effective commanders.
Akhund is also well regarded across the organisation and is particularly close to the supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada.
“He [Akhund] was invited dozens of times to become the chief of the movement after the killing of Mullah Mansoor but he declined the offer that’s why Akhunzada unanimously appointed Amir of the group,” Ahmedzai, a senior Taliban leader, told The Express Tribune over the phone.
Akhund also served as the aide to Burhanuddin Rabbani, when he was the president of the country.
The Taliban leader told The Express Tribune that Akhund had influence in all decisions of Rehbari Shura.
He visited Pakistan when Nawaz Sharif was prime minister of the country and Sartaj Aziz was foreign minister.
(With additional input from Reuters)