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Haibatullah Akhundzada is the amir al-muminin which translates to the ‘Commander of the Faithful’. Mullah Omar had taken this title when he founded the Taliban in the 1990s.
Akhundzada has headed the Taliban since the death of the second Taliban leader, Mullah Mansour, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2016. Akhundzada has never appeared in public. A sole photograph of him was released to the world media in 2016 and a June 2018 video purportedly showed him in public. He mainly communicates through messages released around Islamic holidays, the last one being on 9 May 2021, prior to Eid-ul-Fitr, where he called for establishing an ‘Afghan inclusive system’ after the departure of US forces.
Haibatullah Akhundzada belongs to the Pashtun community, like his predecessors Mullah Omar and Mullah Mansour. And, just like them, Akhundzada too hails from the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.
While Omar belonged to the Hotak tribe of the community and Mansour was from the Durrani Line of the Pashtun, Haibatullah Akhundzada is a member of the Noorzai tribe.
Haibatullah Akhundzada heads the Taliban’s leadership council called the Rahbari Shura, which functions from the Pakistani city of Quetta in Balochistan, and is more popularly known as the Quetta Shura. A decision is considered valid after its approval by the Quetta Shura.
Three deputies help Haibatullah Akhundzada run the Rahbari Shura. They are Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Mullah Muhammad Yaqoob and Sirajuddin Haqqani.
Rahbari Shura has at least 17 commissions under it to run the Taliban government. These commissions are like ministries in a regular government. They implement policies related to the military, economy, education, healthcare, and propaganda.
Mullah Baradar heads the political commission of the Taliban. He had been released from a Pakistani jail after eight years of imprisonment, ahead of the US-Taliban talks. He had then proceeded to operate from Doha, the capital of Qatar, from where he had led the Taliban's negotiation with the United States..
Mullah Baradar is a Pashtun from the Durrani Line.
He is from the Sadozai tribe, a branch of the larger Popalzai tribe.
Mullah Baradar was Abdul Ghani Akhund, whom Mullah Omar gave the nickname of ‘Baradar’ (brother) to show their close ties. Baradar is a co-founder of the Taliban and has also served as deputy to Mullah Omar.
Muhammad Yaqoob is the son of Mullah Omar and is widely considered as the future supreme leader of the Taliban. In 2016, he had been offered the responsibility of heading the outfit. But he reportedly proposed the name of Haibatullah Akhundzada for the position, arguing that he himself was too young to lead the Taliban. Yaqoob is in his early thirties now.
He is the military operations commander of the Taliban. He is also in charge of ideological and religious affairs. His acceptance in the Taliban ranks has risen fast in the past five years, during which he also became the military chief.
Mullah Yaqoob is said to be a moderate voice in the Taliban. He is being credited for the Taliban honouring their deal with the US of not targetting the American forces during their retreat.
Sirajuddin Haqqani heads the Haqqani Network, a terror group proscribed by various international agencies and known as the sword arm of the Taliban. The group was founded by his father, the late Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was a part of the Mujahideen which resisted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Jalaluddin was later a minister in the first Taliban government and a close ally of Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
In August 2015, Sirajuddin was named as a deputy to newly appointed Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammed Mansour - cementing the alliance between the Haqqanis and the Taliban.
Haqqani is wanted by the FBI for questioning in connection with the January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul that killed six people, including an American citizen. He is believed to have coordinated and participated in cross-border attacks against American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. He was also allegedly involved in the planning of the assassination attempt on then Afghan president Hamid Karzai in 2008.
Sirajuddin belongs to the ethnic Pashtun community of Afghanistan.
He is from the Zardan tribe with his family tracing their roots to the Khost province of Afghanistan. Haqqani, though, had spent his childhood in Pakistan.
In the Taliban, Sirajuddin Haqqani oversees the affairs related to insurgency. It is his responsibility to quell any organised opposition to the Taliban.
The Haqqanis are also considered to have been the most lethal and sophisticated insurgent group that had targeted US, coalition, and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Their modus operandi was to coordinate small-arms assaults coupled with rocket attacks, IED blasts, suicide attacks, and strikes using bomb-laden vehicles.
The Haqqani Network was responsible for some of the highest-profile attacks of the Afghan war, including the June 2011 assault on the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel and two major suicide bombings - in 2008 and 2009 - against the Indian Embassy in Kabul.
Mullah Abdul Hakeem Ishaqzai is a hardline cleric who ran an Islamic seminary in the Ishaqabad area of Quetta, which had earlier been functioning as the Taliban headquarters. He was part of the 21-member Taliban team that set the terms of the peace talks with the US.
He belongs to the Pashtun ethnic community, originally hailing from the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. He is hailed in some quarters as the cleric of the Pashtun tribes.
Abdul Hakeem comes from the Ishaqzai tribe of the Pashtuns in Afghanistan.
He graduated from and taught at the Darul Uloom Haqqania Islamic seminary in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The seminary is commonly known as ‘the university of jihad’ as it is a major source supplying fighters to the Taliban and preaching a fundamentalist brand of Islam. Among its alumni have been Mullah Mohammad Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani.
He provides religious justification for what the Taliban do. Abdul Hakeem oversees the judicial structure of the Taliban, which intelligence agencies of many countries believe is the connecting link between the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
While the top leadership is occupied by ethnic Pashtuns, there are Taliban leaders from other ethnicities as well.
Qari Din Mohammad is an ethnic Tajik. Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanafi is an Uzbek. Both had served as governor or administrator during the previous Taliban regime and were part of the negotiation team in Doha.
Overall, the Taliban have a five-tier hierarchy — the supreme leader, his deputies, a leadership council, commissions and administrative organs, and at the lowest level, shadow governors and local military commanders.