He “believed in martyrdom and suicide bombings,” Malkasian wrote.
A former judge in the military court of the Taliban regime, 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, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defending Democracies and editor-in-chief of the group’s Long War Journal.
He was chosen as a compromise candidate by the Taliban leadership after his predecessor, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, was killed in a US drone attack in 2016.
“They needed someone with more consensus, someone better able to keep the different factions together,” said Mr. Giustozzi. “He became a sort of prime minister. He leans more towards the pragmatic end.”
Most recently, he dismissed the group’s political leaders and gave the green light to the military wing to step up attacks on Afghan cities, Mr. Giustozzi, in what turned out to be a winning bet.
Mr Akhundzada’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of a legendary mujahideen and the head of the Haqqani network in Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, has spearheaded many of the recent military efforts.
Mr Haqqani, 48, commonly known as Khalifa, oversees a vast web of fighters, religious schools and companies with strong ties to the Arab Gulf countries from a base in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The Haqqani Network, known for its close ties to Pakistani intelligence, became the most persistent opponent of the US presence in Afghanistan, responsible for American hostage-taking, complex suicide bombings and targeted killings.
Mr. Haqqani and his network also have some of the strongest and longest-lasting ties to Al Qaeda. From their stronghold on the Pakistani border, they helped Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden escape from his headquarters in Tora Bora after the US invasion in 2001.