Taliban supreme leader appears in Afghan grand assembly of elders

Kabul, Jun 1 (EFE).- The supreme leader of the Taliban, Mullah Hibatullah Akundzada, on Friday made a rare appearance in the grand assembly of elders and Islamic scholars in Kabul, marking the first time he has been seen in public since the Islamists seized power in August last year.

Akhundzada, who had not been seen or photographed since the Taliban took over Kabul, attended the Loya Jirga, a gathering of around 3,000 Islamic scholars and tribal elders in Kabul, state news agency Bakhtar reported.

Although there were no images of the Taliban chief arriving at the event – which is being held behind closed doors and without media access – an audio of Akhundzada’s speech was circulated by the government and Bakhtar.

Akhundzada, is a practically unknown face and very few photos of him exist in the public domain, which are also believed to be old.

“The success of the Afghan jihad is not only a source of pride for Afghans but also for Muslims all over the world. (…) May Allah accept the martyrdom of all the Mujahideen,” the Taliban leader said in his speech, as per excerpts tweeted by the state news agency.

“The Muslims of the world now wait for the implementation of the slogan of peace and security in practice, although jihad was associated with apparent destruction, but as a result peace and prosperity came,” he added, referring to the Taliban’s victory after two decades of war.

Akhundzada is the third supreme leader of the Taliban, who assumed the position in 2016 after his predecessor Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor was killed in a United States’ drone strike in Pakistan’s Balochistan province.

Only three appearances of the leader have been reported since Kabul fell to the Islamists, but the first two took place quietly in the southern city of Kandahar, the traditional headquarters of the Taliban, where Akhundzada spends most of his time.

The Loya Jirga in the Afghan capital was convened after several religious representatives and members of the civil society urged the Taliban to hold this assembly to discuss the future of the country under the Islamists.

The assembly has been used by earlier governments to seek counsel over major decisions about the country, although the Taliban chief made it clear on Friday that it was the government which would have the final say.

“If you consider me as your Sharia Amir (leader as per Islamic law); then you should follow my directions, I am not a symbolic political leader or someone who arrived based on election, the Ulema will provide us with advices and we are the executive force,” he said.

His appearance at the assembly comes amid security concerns as on Thursday the first session of the assembly was ended suddenly after gunfire was reported near the site.

Later, the Taliban insisted that the shots had been fired by the security forces deployed at the site, although earlier they had been attributed to unidentified gunmen trying to disrupt the event. EFE


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