Questions raised over extended absence of Taliban’s chief minister

Taliban chief minister Mullah Hassan Akhund in a meeting in Kandahar on May 14. Photo: Social media.

Taliban’s chief minister Mullah Hassan Akhund has reportedly been absent from his Kabul office at the presidential palace, known as ARG, for over a month.

Hassan Akhund went to Kandahar for Eid ul-Fitr in late April and has not returned to Kabul so far, said Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban’s spokesman.

Sources close to the Taliban said the Taliban leadership is working on plans to move Hassan Akhund’s office from Kabul to Kandahar – where the Taliban’s leader Hibatullah Akhundzada resides. Already, some key offices, including Mujahid’s office, have been relocated to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

“Yes, Mr. Chief Minister went to Kandahar over Eid and then he was ill and needed rest,” Mujahid said.

Analysts have for a few months now suggested that the Taliban could make Kandahar the political capital of the country.

“Gradually, Kandahar is changing to the center of Afghanistan’s political power,” said Mohammad Ishaq Atmar, lecturer at a diplomacy institute in Germany. “The transfer of offices of some spokesmen and then maybe the transfer of Mullah Hassan Akhund from Kabul to Kandahar is a sign of it.”

Questions around such a move comes after reports emerged early this year of rifts among Taliban leaders. This became noticeably evident in a speech by the Taliban’s interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and Taliban’s defense minister Mullah Yaqub Mujahid.

On February 11, in a speech in Khost province, Haqqani alleged the organization’s “power monopolization and defamation of the entire [ruling] system have become common.” He did not name the Taliban’s leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, in his speech. However, his reference to “power monopolization” was largely seen as being aimed at the reclusive Taliban emir, who retains a tight grip over Taliban decision-making. “This situation cannot be tolerated any longer,” Haqqani stated.

Taliban chief minister Mullah Hassan Akhund (right) in a meeting with Qatar prime minister in Kandahar on May 14.

A source close to the Taliban meanwhile said that Taliban’s deputy chief minister Mawlawi Abdul Kabir contacted Hibatullah’s office on Tuesday morning and called for clarity on the fate of Mullah Hassan Akhund. The source said that Kabir has called for the return of Hassan Akhund to Kabul.

But Mujahid said that Mullah Hassan will return to Kabul and that there are no plans to transfer the political capital to Kandahar. “He [Akhund] is there temporarily and will return to Kabul and this does not mean the transfer of his office (to Kandahar),” Mujahid told Amu.

Mujahid claimed that Hassan Akhund has not been able to return to Kabul due to health issues but that he did meet with Qatar’s prime minister in Kandahar on Friday.