Taliban share rare, months-old audio from reclusive leader

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The Taliban have shared a rare, months-old audio message from their reclusive supreme leader in which he purportedly says that Afghanistan would be “ruined” without justice handed out by the country’s new rulers.

The Taliban leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, an Islamic scholar, almost never appears in public and hardly ever leaves the Taliban heartland in southern Kandahar province. He surrounds himself with other religious scholars and allies who oppose education and work for women. Only one known photo of him, years old, exists.

He was named the Taliban leader in 2016, after a U.S. airstrike in Pakistan killed his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.

Since the Taliban takeover of the country in August 2021, Akhundzada has traveled to Kabul only once, to give a speech to a gathering of clerics. However, he was not shown in the media at the time and appeared with his back to the audience.

The audio recording was shared on Twitter by the main Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, on Wednesday. In it, a voice that Mujahid says belongs to Akhundzada declares that justice is an instrument for the survival of the Taliban government.

The Associated Press has not been able to independently verify that the voice on the audio message is Akhundzada’s.

“But if there is no justice, and there is oppression, selfishness, murders and revenge, as well as killings without courts, this country will be ruined,” says the voice, then adds that this “can be prevented through the right decision of religious scholars and its proper implementation by the government.”

According to the spokesman, the recording was from a speech given five or six months ago to Taliban officials at an unspecified location. There was no word on why the recording was released at this time.

Pakistan-based journalist Ahmed Rashid, who has written several books about the Taliban, said the clip addressed none of the issues facing the Taliban, such as women’s rights and the country’s deepening humanitarian crisis.

“There doesn’t seem to be a political purpose to this clip. It’s very unusual to hear from him,” Rashid said, adding that it’s “irrelevant to the population.”

In January, Mujahid tweeted that Akhundzada met religious scholars from different provinces. He also tweeted about the leader’s February meeting with commanders and other high-ranking security officials.

Akhundzada appears to have taken a stronger hand in directing domestic policy. He ordered women and girls barred from universities and schools after the sixth grade. He has also issued the edicts barring Afghan women from working for non-governmental organizations and the United Nations.

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