The Taliban have a new leader: Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada. He was elected Wednesday, probably in Quetta, Pakistan, by Rabhari Shura, the highest political body of the organization. His appointment comes a few days after the death of his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who was killed by an American drone while traveling in Pakistani Baluchistan.
Akhundzada appointed two deputies: One is Mullah Yacub, the son of the historic leader Mullah Omar and head of one of the Taliban Commissions under the leadership of Mansour. Yacub had challenged Mansour’s appointment in July 2015 but ended up supporting him. The other is Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of the founder of the Islamist network of the same name, active since the 1980s and, today, among the most dangerous armed groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with economic significance clear to the Gulf.
Information about Akhundzada is fragmentary, but there’s enough to understand the reasons for his choice. He’s around 50 years old and was born in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, the historic stronghold of the Taliban. He’s a member of the powerful Noorzai Pashtun tribes. Some say he fought the Soviets in the ranks of Hezb-e-Islami Khalis; others say he lived in Pakistan between 1979 and 1989, the years of the occupation.