The Taliban has made a bold announcement that it has appointed Mullah Akhund to the governorship of Kunduz Province. Mullah Akhund is an advisor to the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Haoba Mansoor. According to the Taliban, he was given the post by a face-to-face meeting in Pakistan. This is yet another sign that the war between the government and the Taliban is entering a new phase. This comes as the Afghan government has continually rejected the presence of Mullah Akhund in Kunduz.
Mullah Akhund is an experienced administrator who is respected within the Pashto region where he was born. Taliban governance needs to balance ethnic identities and he has been a champion of this. He is also an adept leader who has taken on a variety of post including that of provincial governor. He was also responsible for the security of Kunduz, a sensitive and strategic region of Afghanistan. If the latest reports are to be believed, this will be the first time that a Taliban leader has been appointed to head a province in Afghanistan.
The timing of this announcement is significant. The New York Times has reported that negotiations are underway with the Taliban for a new government. The United Nations and other international bodies are calling for a peaceful settlement to the conflict. It is not clear if the Taliban is prepared to engage in serious peace talks or if they are merely waiting for the American military to finish its withdrawal from the country.
Whether or not the Taliban can be trusted to hold up to the terms of a peace process is another issue. Mullah Akhund is the deputy head of the Taliban regime in Herat. With the increasing tension between the United States and the Taliban, many people wonder if Akhund might become the next target. If he were to fall to the Taliban, the government in Herat would suffer a collapse as the leadership is based in Pakistan. The current provincial capital is also in Pakistan.
Akhund’s appointment comes at a time when there has been a new resurgence of fighting between the government and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Since the United States and other coalition forces have pulled out all of their troops from Afghanistan, there is little support left for the government in Herat. Many residents do not believe that the political leadership in Herat will continue to pursue reconciliation with the Taliban. They want to see the hard men go away and put the power into an individual who is more trustworthy.
For now, there is no confirmation as to Mullah Akhund’s appointment. The provincial capital has not responded to an appeal by the interim government for a meeting. Mullah Akhund replaces Doctor Abdul Ghani Layq; he is currently the second most powerful minister in Herat province. The appointment comes at a time when tension is running high between the government and the Taliban. For now, it appears that Akhund’s appointment is only a rumor until the final decision is made.