Taliban leaders: Secular and ‘inclusive’ or ruthless ideologues?

Mr. Akhundzada, the top leader and an Islamic legal scholar, has long been an enthusiastic advocate for suicide bombers. His own son trained for suicide bombing, with the approval of his father, and as a 23-year-old he blew himself up in an attack in Helmand province. That sacrifice raised Mr Akhundzada’s profile in the movement, said Carter Malkasian, author of “The American War in Afghanistan.”

He “believed in martyrdom and suicide bombings,” wrote Mr. Malkasian.

A former judge of the Taliban regime’s military tribunal, Mr Akhundzada, later issued many of the fatwas or religious orders, bless suicide bombers. “He’s someone who is truly a spiritual guide and ideologue,” said Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defending Democracies and senior editor of the group’s Long War Journal.

He was chosen as the compromise candidate by the Taliban’s leadership after his predecessor, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, was killed in a US drone strike in 2016.

“They needed someone who agreed more, someone who was better able to hold the various factions together,” Mr. Giustozzi. “He became a kind of prime minister. He leans more towards the pragmatic end. “

Most recently, he ignored the group’s political leaders and gave the green light to the military wing to escalate attacks on Afghan cities, Mr Giustozzi said in what turned out to be a winning bet.

Mr. Akhundzada’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of a legendary mujahedin figure and leader of the Haqqani network in Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, has led much of the recent military effort.

Sir. Haqqani, 48, commonly known as Khalifa, oversees an extensive network of warriors, religious schools and companies with strong links to the Arab Gulf countries from a base in Pakistani tribal areas. Known for its close ties to the Pakistani intelligence service, the Haqqani network became the most staunch opponent of the US presence in Afghanistan, responsible for the hostage-taking of Americans, complex suicide attacks and targeted assassinations.

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