Tuesday, July 6th, 2021
Person of the week
This man beats the United States
By Wolfram Weimer
After the withdrawal of the western troops, the radical Islamist Taliban overrun large parts of Afghanistan. The US looks like a loser, the horror begins for the Afghans. The brutal religious leader and mass murderer Hibatullah Achundsada takes power – who is the man?
The Taliban overrun Afghanistan. Wherever western troops are withdrawing these days, radical Islamist militias are storming the positions. Military bases and police stations fall to them in rows, many government soldiers surrender and deliver weapons and vehicles to the Taliban without a fight. The current evaluation of the “Long War Journal” shows that the Taliban already control 157 of the 407 districts of Afghanistan, including large areas in the north of the country where the Bundeswehr was stationed. Taliban fighters have advanced into the cities of Kunduz, Faisabad, Mazar-i-Sharif and Taloqan.
After fierce fighting with the Afghan government troops, the Taliban have now also captured a key area in their former Kandahar bastion. A mass exodus of civilians has begun. The fall of that Panjwai district came just two days after US troops withdrew from Bagram Air Force Base near Kabul, from where the Americans had directed operations against the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies for two decades. Panjwai is not only the key to conquering the provincial capital Kandahar. It also has a high symbolic meaning for the Taliban, because their leader Hibatullah Achundsada comes from Panjwai.
Achundsada is the new strong man in Afghanistan. He bears the title “Emir-al-Momineen” (Commander of the Faithful), is trumpeting as a religious warrior these days and patronizing the world public in an official message that the Taliban viewed the withdrawal of foreign troops as “a good step”. “Unfortunately, the American side has repeatedly violated the signed agreement and inflicted enormous human and material losses on the civilian population,” said Achundsada, reprimanding the world power and threatening that if the US failed to meet its obligations, it should be held accountable for the consequences. Achundsada refers to the decision by the Biden government to postpone the final withdrawal date to September 11, 2021 – the 20th anniversary of the Al Qaeda terrorist attacks on America.
After the withdrawal of the Americans, Achundsada and his militias want to found another Islamic emirate with Sharia law and strict gender segregation. The days of democracy, human, women’s and freedom rights would be numbered – 20 years of Western military presence threatened to fail.
Achundsada is therefore seen in the Islamic world as the man who defeated the USA. Day by day he expands his power base with new conquests. And many Afghans are terribly afraid of it. Because Achundsada has the reputation of being a brutal hardliner. At the start of his conquest, there was a perfidious attack on a girls’ school in Kabul with 58 deaths. The attack seems like a drastic shock message for what is about to happen: brutal repression, especially of women and girls. First of all, the assassins detonated a car bomb in front of the school. Many students ran out of the building in a panic. Shortly afterwards, two more explosive devices were detonated in order to kill as many girls as possible. The US government spoke of a barbaric attack, and a statement by the German embassy said: “Killing children is an attack on the future of Afghanistan.”
Denying girls schooling is just as much a part of the Taliban’s program as destroying non-Islamic cultural assets. Achundsada was one of the leaders who had the Buddha statues at the Bamiyan World Heritage Site destroyed in 2001. Achundsada, son of an imam, is now 60 years old and has been the theological and now the military-political leader of the Taliban for two decades. He finances his troops mainly through drug trafficking. At times he acted as the merciless chief judge of the Sharia courts in the Taliban system. The UN holds him jointly responsible for massacres, especially against members of the majority Shiite Hazara ethnic group. United Nations officials compare the systematic massacres with the ethnic cleansing that took place during the Bosnian War.
“Achundsada prefers war to peace”
The rapid takeover of power by the Taliban is a disaster for the West, NATO and the USA. All efforts to hand over the country to a civilian government after years of peacekeeping are in danger of failing. A permanent division of power between the warring groups – “power sharing” seemed to be the key to peace – is very unlikely, and the Taliban’s recent territorial gains indicated a violent takeover, said Madiha Afzal, an analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington Bloomberg news agency.
The UN is also looking at the Taliban offensive with horror. The number of civilian victims had already increased by 29 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year, said Deborah Lyons, the top UN envoy in Afghanistan to the Security Council. “The action on the battlefield is far greater than the progress at the negotiating table,” she warns.
Achundsada’s life is dominated by violence. His son Abdur Rahman died in a suicide attack on an Afghan military base. His brother was killed by a bomb in August 2019. He himself survived an attempted assassination by the Afghan secret service. One day, during one of his lectures, a man stood among the students and pointed a pistol at Achundzada at close range, but the gun jammed and he survived. The Pakistani security analyst Bashir Bisan describes him as follows: “Achundzada prefers war to peace and killing to life.”
He took over the post of Taliban leader on May 25, 2016 as the successor to Mullah Akhtar Mansour. Mansour died when a US drone attacked his car. The attack had been approved by US President Barack Obama. Until then, Achundsada was Mansour’s deputy. Allegedly Mansour had named him as his successor in his will. But the appointment is still controversial among the Taliban leaders today. Achundsada in particular has to fight off competition from Mullah Yaqoob and Sirajuddin Haqqani. To secure his power, the current reconquest of Afghanistan comes in handy. In May 2017, Achundsada published a 122-page Taliban manual on how to conduct jihad. In it he already announced a long-term jihad after the withdrawal of the western troops: “It is wrong if someone says that the jihad should stop immediately after the departure of the infidels.” And he also makes it clear in the book that it is “a sin” not to trust the leader; and if one does not follow the instructions of the guide, it is tantamount to disobedience to the prophet and to God. Achundsada not only wants power over Afghanistan, he also demands absolute obedience.