It only took the Taliban four days to acknowledge the death of Mullah Mansour and appoint a new successor, Hibatullah Akhundzada. Many have theorized this quick turn around as a tactic to prevent further infighting among the Taliban. When Mullah Omar died, it took the Taliban 2 years to appoint Mansour. There is still at least one splinter group that opposed Mansour and now opposes Akhundzada, it is a group headed by Mullah Mohammad Rasul. They claim that their main objection is the lack of process and consensus. However, Mullah Rasul has been in direct competition with Mansour for access to the drug smuggling routes .
In this video below, Taliban members and leaders are reportedly pledging their allegiance to the new Emir.
We know only limited information about the new leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada due to his reclusive tendencies. He rarely travels and doesn’t like to use technology. The information that we do know is a stark contrast from Mansour. When Hibatullah Akhundzada served as Mansour’s deputy, it almost seems as if he somewhat balanced the core leadership. Mansour was charismatic and the proven fighter, while Akhundzada is the conservative religious scholar. Akhundzada’s deputies, Mullah Yaqub, the elder son of Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani, are also proven fighters which may help to offset his lack of experience on the battlefield. However, a Taliban commander reportedly stated that Haqqani and Yaqoub, have already “divided Afghanistan into two parts” and each wants to control his own section. Mullah Akhundzada has been described as very similar to Mullah Omar, but will it be enough to maintain power and control over his two ambitious deputies?
Here is how the two leaders compare:
What to expect from the new Emir?
Hibatullah Akhundzada reportedly has been running the Taliban for several months as Mansour was rumored to be underground. Will he be drastically different from Mansour in the short-term, probably not, but the Taliban ideology could shift even further right long-term. Hibatullah Akhundzada is very conservative, even for the Taliban. When he served as a judge, he issued many fatwas and handed down severe punishments. With him as the new emir, we should see more adherence to the Taliban’s ideology or even increasing its restrictive nature. If laws get stricter, expect more civilian and even Taliban casualties. Additionally, expect the peace talks to stop. The Taliban must come together now and fight in order to prevent more internal fracturing.
Mullah Mansour was heavily involved with the opium smuggling in southern Afghanistan. According New York Times, a senior Afghan official, “Mansour, nicknamed “the Accountant” because of his wealth, controlled a vast drugs-smuggling empire based in the southern opium-producing provinces that provide the bulk of the world’s heroin and fund the 15-year insurgency.” How will the new Emir fill this money making void? Mansour was also known to travel to Dubai, Bahrain, and Iran to fundraise for the Taliban. Hibatullah Akhundzada is not a charismatic man and this could be one of his biggest weaknesses.
U.S. surveillance capabilities allowed Mansour to be tracked and killed as he traveled into Pakistan. With Akhundzada’s reclusive nature, traditional methods of locating him will be difficult but not impossible. There are still methods available to locate him, it may just take longer to carry it out and force the U.S. to be more creative. As the new Emir, he knows that the target on his head has increased in size which could cause him to limit his movements even more.