Where is Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada?
The Indian government has been studying information shared by foreign intelligence agencies and monitoring chatter from within the terrorist group’s ranks to locate the secretive Akhundzada.
A senior government official has now indicated that he may be in the custody of the Pakistan Army, and that he has not been seen by the Taliban’s senior leader and fighters in the past six months. His last public statement came in May – to mark Eid al-Fitr, a holiday signalling the end of Ramzan.
According to this official India is also very interested in how Pakistan will handle this issue.
Haibatullah Akhundzada was appointed as the Taliban chief in May 2016, after former leader Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone strike. One of Mansour’s two deputies, he was promoted at a meeting in Pakistan, according to a video statement shared by the terror group at the time.
A report by news agency AFP described Akhundzada, 50, as a legal scholar rather than a soldier, and credited him with issuing many of the group’s more extreme interpretations of Islam.
He has also been described as the “Emir al Mumimeen“, or “the commander of the faithful” – an epithet handed by Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who pledged his allegiance in 2016.
Akhundzada is one of seven Taliban leaders widely expected to either lead or be influential in the running of Afghanistan after the terror group took effective control of the country on Sunday.
Reports have also reached Delhi that members of other terror groups – such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed – have begun mingling with the Taliban.
Yesterday Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, for the first time since the Taliban captured took control of Afghanistan, outlined India’s concerns about terrorism at a meeting of the UN Security Council.
“Whether in Afghanistan or against India, groups like Lashkar and Jaish continue to operate with impunity and encouragement…” he said, accusing unnamed countries – widely seen as a reference to Pakistan – of extending “state hospitality” to ‘those with blood on their hands”.
However, when asked how India views and plans to deal with the Taliban leadership, Mr Jaishankar did not offer a direct comment and would only say that it is still “early days”.
Earlier this week sources said messages from the Taliban’s political office in Qatar had urged the Indian government to reconsider evacuating its diplomats. The messages – seen as an outreach of sorts – said India need fear no attacks on its embassy or staff from groups like the Lashkar or Jaish.
The government, however, chose to set aside these messages and pull embassy staff out of Afghanistan anyway, since it had received input of possible attacks by these groups.
India has evacuated all diplomatic staff but over 1,000 of its citizens remain in various Afghan cities, and ascertaining their location and condition is proving to be a challenge, a Home Ministry official said, since not all of them had registered themselves with the embassy.
The Indian embassy (in Kabul) is non-functional (since staff have been evacuated) and is being run by locals… so we are trying to streamline issues which are being flagged by them, the official said.
With input from AFP, Reuters, Bloomberg
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