Taliban share rare audio message from supreme leader

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The Taliban have shared a rare audio message from their supreme leader, who says justice is an instrument for the Afghan government’s survival.

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.

Akhundzada has traveled to Kabul only once since the August 2021 Taliban takeover to give a speech to a gathering of clerics, although he was not shown in media coverage at the closed event and appeared with his back to the audience.

In his audio message, shared on Twitter Wednesday by the Taliban’s main spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, Akhundzada said justice is an instrument for the government’s survival.

“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,” Akhundzada can be heard saying. “This oppression can be prevented through the right decision of religious scholars and its proper implementation by the government.”

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

Mujahid gave no information in his tweet about where the message was recorded, when, or the reason for releasing the message. The spokesman was not immediately available to answer questions about the clip.

Ahmed Rashid, who has written several books about the Taliban, said there was no context to the clip and it addressed none of the issues facing the Taliban, like women’s rights and the country’s deepening humanitarian crisis.

“He has picked up something that is important for the Taliban but which is irrelevant to the population at large,” said Rashid. “There doesn’t seem to be a political purpose to this clip. It’s very unusual to hear from him. People will be puzzling over this for days to come as since he’s been in power he has kept himself aloof.”

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 has appeared to take a stronger hand in directing domestic policy in the last six months. It was on his orders, from Kandahar, that the Taliban barred women and girls from universities and schools after the sixth grade and stopped Afghan women from working at NGOs and the U.N.

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

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