Security

Where is Haibatullah? Absences fuel speculation Taliban leader may be dead

Salaam Times

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Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, seen here in this undated photo, has been absent from meetings and public appearances for months. [File]

Speculation is swirling around the status of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, who has been absent from meetings and public appearances for at least three months as the COVID-19 coronavirus ravages Afghanistan.

The deadly disease is spreading at alarming rates, with Afghan officials warning of a coming "disaster" as hospitals are running out of beds and the death toll continues to surge.

The Taliban boasted of their readiness to fight the coronavirus when it first reached Afghanistan, but now the insurgents are struggling to curb its spread in their strongholds.

In fact, many Taliban fighters and leaders have contracted COVID-19, including Haibatullah, according to sources within the group.

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Top Taliban officials arrive in Doha last year to attend the Intra-Afghan Dialogue talks. Internal strife among Taliban factions is one reason the group would want to deny the top leader's death. [Karim Jaafar/AFP]

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Taliban militants and villagers attend a gathering to celebrate the peace deal with the United States in Alingar District, Laghman Province, on March 2. [NOORULLAH SHIRZADA / AFP]

"Our leader is sick, but he is recovering," senior Taliban military leader Maulawi Muhammad Ali Jan Ahmed told Foreign Policy magazine on June 1.

But three Taliban members in Quetta, Pakistan, told the magazine they suspect that Haibatullah died from the illness.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid on June 2 denied that Haibatullah or any other senior leaders had contracted the disease or died.

Doubts and dubious claims

Haibatullah's absence from meetings and public appearances for weeks -- and the Taliban's history of lying and covering up a leader's death -- raises doubts about Mujahid's claims.

A Taliban official in Quetta told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that he could neither confirm nor deny the leader's death.

"Nearly all the Taliban leadership in Doha has the bug," a senior Afghan government official told Foreign Policy on the condition that he not be identified.

Even Haibatullah's annual message marking Eid ul Fitr was a written statement, not a video or audio message that would assure the Taliban's rank and file of his wellness.

In the statement, he urged readers to seek medical help for the disease, but he also insisted the virus was caused by humanity's "transgression against Allah's religion".

To stop the virus, Muslims should "seek forgiveness from Allah and stop violating his commands", Haibatullah said.

"The majority of Taliban leaders in Quetta, Peshawar and Qatar were infected with the coronavirus," said Jawed Kohistani, a military intelligence affairs analyst in Kabul.

"The health of Taliban leaders in Quetta and Peshawar has improved, but Mullah Haibatullah's absence from the Taliban's leadership meetings strengthens the possibility of his death," he said.

"I have spoken to some sources who are in contact with the Taliban, and as they spoke, they used the word 'late' for Haibatullah, which shows that he may not be alive," he said.

'Serious disagreements' among Taliban leaders

Internal strife among Taliban factions is one reason the group would want to deny the top leader's death, Kohistani said.

"There are serious disagreements within the Taliban leadership, and Mullah Haibatullah has been missing for some time," he said. "He has either died of the coronavirus or is under surveillance."

A week before the signing of the agreement between the United States and the militant group, Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar went to Quetta to resolve feuds and gain approval from the Taliban leaders, said Kohistani. Mullah Muhammad Rasool, Mullah Manan Niazi and Abdul Raouf Khadem pledged allegiance to Baradar.

"But Mullah Haibatullah was not in the meeting," he added.

"There are serious disagreements among the Taliban leaders, and the group is managed by [the late] Mullah [Mohammad] Omar's group and led by Mullah [Mohammad] Yaqoob, while the majority of Mullah Haibatullah's and Mullah Akhtar Osmani's supporters within the Taliban group have been removed from their positions," he said.

Aminullah Shariq, a political affairs analyst in Kabul and former governor of Paktika Province, also speculated about the Taliban leader's death.

"Mullah Haibatullah's absence from the Taliban's important and decision-making meetings shows that the Taliban leader has died or was killed because of internal feuds," he said.

"The Taliban hid Mullah Omar's death so that the fighters would not disintegrate and disagreements would not deepen among them," he said.

Internal tensions within the Taliban emerged shortly after the death of Taliban founding leader Mullah Omar was made public on July 9, 2015 -- more than two years after he had actually died.

"The Taliban are in a critical situation," Shariq said. "On the one hand, they have an agreement with the United States, and on the other hand they are deciding on intra-Afghan talks."

"The group is lying like before, and it is hiding the death of its leader so that there won't be any division within the leadership and the ranks of commanders and fighters and so that it can gain more concessions in the peace process," he said.

[Sulaiman from Kabul contributed to this report.]

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If God is willing, their dirty leader is dead. He must die and soon go to the place where he must be (to the Hell). He has shed the blood of thousands of innocent people in the country; he even did not have mercy on the orphans and widows. Taliban are all liars. Making peace in the country or in the Middle East by a terrorist group is not more than a dream. They are traitors and mercenaries. It is their masters who do not consider peace in Afghanistan to their own interests, so there will never be peace for at least another 50 years.

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Lies also have a limit! However, in God I swear that I have not seen even a word of truth in this article. Fighting cannot be won with lies.

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All these are baseless words. hahahahah

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Maybe

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It doesn't matter whether Taliban’s leader is alive or dead. Even when this leader was alive, no one saw him. He has just one photo that is shown in the media. He doesn't have even other photo. Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada may have been an ISI general. They just brought a picture of a person and introduced him as the leader of this group. No matter whether this person is alive or dead. Taliban's control and administration is in the hands of ISI; whatever Pakistani intelligence wants, it is done. Instead of signing a peace agreement with Taliban, the United States should have made peace with Pakistan and signed the agreement with it.

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I wonder why Taliban conceal the death of their leaders! What can be the benefit of this to the group?

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Taliban’s leader Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada may have died of corona disease, because it has been 20 days now since the news of the leader's death was published in the media, but he did not appear in the media. If he was alive, he would have at least appeared once. It is Taliban's policy to keep the death of their leaders as secret, because if they release the death of their leaders, the group's moral will be weakened. The death news of Mullah Omar, the group's former leader, was also released two years after his death, and even his son, Mullah Yaqoob, was unaware of his death, and this was kept secret by ISI, and instead of Mullah Omar, ISI issued orders. It is possible that Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada has already died and that ISI has concealed the news and will issue order for long time instead of him. If this is true, it is bad news for the peace process, because ISI will never want peace in Afghanistan, and the agency may issue fake or counterfeit orders in which Taliban will not declare a ceasefire and they will not be ready to intra-Afghan talks. You see that recently Taliban’s attacks have increased in Afghanistan, while all provinces of Afghanistan are faced with the pandemic of corona virus. If the leader of this group was alive, he would have declared a ceasefire during this pandemic.

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From your report it is seems that all of Taliban's leaders and their entire system are based in Quetta and Peshawar [cities] of Pakistan. And when so, why you are not sending two to three aircrafts either to eliminate them like you did with Osama, or load and bring them to Kabul to hold talks with the government and solve the issue. Secondly, when they are in Pakistan, what is the reaction of America and the coalition forces against Pakistan? because even if you have no mercy toward Afghans who are getting killed every day, at least you had to have mercy on the NATO soldiers who were killed by terrorists with support of Pakistan, and you had to ask Pakistan for the assassination of your soldiers by mercenaries of that country's army and ISI.

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A true action needs to be taken.

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