Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada was named as Taliban leader in 2016 after a US drone strike killed the previous leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour. Akhunzada is known primarily as a religious leader who ran schools from which many of the Taliban have graduated.
Mujahideen and Taliban 1.0: Akhundzada is a former member of the Mujahideen, who fought against the Soviet Union invasion during the 1980s. However, during that time, he was known more for his religious guidance, rather than military leadership. He continued in the position as a religious counselor during the formation of the Taliban in the 1990s and after the Taliban captured the western Farah province, he was put in charge of reducing crime in the area. Later on, he took on the position as head of the military court, arbitrating disputes among Taliban members. After the US invasion in 2001, he became both head of the Taliban’s council of religious scholars, and as teacher in a village near the Pakistani border for 15 years until his sudden disappearance in 2016.
Taliban 2.0: After the United State’s withdrawal in 2021 and the Taliban’s subsequent takeover, Akhundzada has become the head of the newly announced Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Akhundzada shuns public speeches and even dislikes taking photos—he has yet to be seen in public—but has issued various statements outlining how the Taliban will rule in a more inclusive way and be different than when they previously ruled. The main promises have been around the role of women, allowing them education and work, but these promises have not been enough to allay women’s fears of a return to a restrictive way of life.