A ten-minute audio tape attributed to the Taliban’s Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada appeared on 30 October, the first such communication since the jihadist takeover of Afghanistan in August. Hailed as Akhundzada’s “first public appearance” or his decision to step into “the limelight”, the reality is more complicated.
Little is known about Akhundzada, beyond his involvement in the struggle against the Soviets in the 1980s and his time as a judge under the last Taliban regime. Akhundzada moved to Pakistan with the rest of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership in 2001. He became leader in 2016 after his predecessor was killed in a drone strike as he returned from Iran, where he had been meeting Iranian and Russian officials.