The Taliban have named Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund to lead their new interim government, nearly three weeks after the group seized control of the country.
Mullah Akhund is on a UN sanctions list and is the longtime head of the Taliban’s powerful decision-making body Rehbari Shura, or leadership council. He was previously the foreign minister and then deputy prime minister during the Taliban’s last stint in power from 1996-2001.
At a press conference in Kabul on Tuesday, Taliban spokesman said Zabihullah Mujahid said Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar would be Mullah Akhund’s deputy.
Like many in the Taliban leadership, Mullah Akhund derives much of his prestige from his proximity to the movement’s reclusive first leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Akhund hails from Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.
A UN sanctions report described him as a “close associate and political adviser” to Omar.
Akhund is highly respected within the movement, especially by its supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhunzada, a Taliban source told the news agency Reuters.
Some observers viewed Akhund, believed to be in his mid-60s and possibly older, as more of a political than a religious figure, with his control over the leadership council also giving him a say in military affairs.
Mullah Akhund has Pashtun lineage from Ahmad Shah Durrani – the founder of modern Afghanistan (circa 1700s).
He played a crucial leadership and guidance role in the Rahbari Shura council of leaders, often called the Quetta Shura, formed after the Taliban was driven out of power in a US-led military invasion in 2001.
He is the author of several works on Islam.