Taliban supreme leader makes rare visit to Kabul, warns foreigners not to meddle in Afghanistan – state media

The reclusive leader told the conference that Afghanistan “cannot develop without being independent,” according to state-run Bakhtar news agency.

“Thank God we are now an independent country. (Foreigners) shouldn’t give us their orders, it’s our system and we have our own decisions,” Akhundzada added.

In the speech, Akhundzada praised the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan last August, nearly two decades after they were driven out of Kabul by US forces, saying, “The success of Afghan jihad is not only a source of pride for Afghans, but for all Muslims around the world.”

The speed of the takeover, just weeks after US troops began to withdraw, took the world by surprise and led to the dissolution of the foreign-backed government of Ashraf Ghani, who had fled the country.

Akhundzada made the comments in an audio recording during a three-day religious gathering attended by 3,000 – all male, according to state media. The meeting was not open to the media, but CNN listened to the recording of Akhundzada’s speech.

The gathering in Kabul began on Thursday. Akhundzada is based in Kandahar, the birthplace and spiritual heartland of the Taliban, and is rarely photographed in public, a fact that has fueled rumors over the years that he is ill or possibly dead. No photos of Akhundzada have been released, who attended the meeting that began Thursday in Kabul.
Akhundzada is known as a reclusive leader.  He was identified in this undated photo by several Taliban officials, who declined to be named.

A senior religious cleric from the Taliban’s founding generation, Akhundzada, was appointed leader of the Taliban in 2016 after the group’s former leader, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, was killed in a US airstrike in Pakistan.

He retained the post when the group announced its interim government in September.

Akhundzada ruled out involving previous governments in the formation of a future government, although he said he had “forgiven” them.

“I have forgiven the oppressors of the previous regime. I don’t hold them responsible for their past actions. If someone causes them trouble without committing new crimes, I will punish them. However, forgiveness does not mean bringing them into government,” Akhundzada said in the audio recording.

The message appeared to contradict statements made by other members of the Taliban leadership in recent months, who have expressed openness to a more inclusive government in order to garner international support.

The international community has repeatedly called on the Taliban to expand the ranks of their government and restore the rights of women and girls, which have been curtailed since the group came to power, if they wish to be officially recognized. The World Bank has frozen hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects because of the problem.

Women in Afghanistan are no longer able to work in most sectors and require a male guardian for long-distance travel, while girls have been barred from returning to secondary school.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, Afghanistan’s acting interior minister and deputy vice chairman of the Taliban since 2016, told CNN in May that there would be “good news soon” about the Taliban’s yet-unfulfilled promise to let girls back to school, but suggested that women who were protesting the regime’s restrictions on women’s rights should stay at home.

During an emergency meeting in Geneva on Friday, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned that “women and girls in Afghanistan are experiencing the largest and fastest decline in the exercise of their rights in decades.”

Speaking to the clergy, Akhundzada reiterated his commitment to the implementation of Sharia, the Islamic legal system derived from the Koran, while speaking out against the “way of life of the unbelievers.”

The Taliban’s harsh interpretation of Sharia law when last in power led to numerous violent punishments, including the stoning of suspected adulterers, public executions and amputations.