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Taliban Appoints Its Leader as the ‘Lawful Ruler’ of Afghanistan

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Just days after signing a peace treaty with the US, the Taliban resumed its attacks. Shown here a March 6, 2020 attack on a political rally in Kabul (Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Just days after signing a peace treaty with the U.S., the Taliban resumed its attacks. Shown here a March 6, 2020 attack on a political rally in Kabul (Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Before the ink could dry on the U.S. peace deal, the Taliban issued a fatwa (religious decree) calling for an Islamic government for Afghanistan — including appointing its leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, as the “lawful ruler” of Afghanistan.

Just five days after the U.S. peace deal signing, on March 5, the Taliban referred to itself as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” and declared its intention to continue waging armed jihad until the new emirate is established.

As noted by the Long War Journal, “The fatwa flies in the face of the hopes of U.S., Afghan and Western officials who maintain that the Taliban will participate in an inclusive democratic government, or agree to some other long-term, power-sharing arrangement.”

As the fatwa notes, Akhundzada “has an Islamic duty to establish an Islamic government after foreign occupation troops exit the country. In the presence of a legal emir there cannot be another ruler of Afghanistan.”

As Clarion Project reported, there’s been a steady trail left by the Taliban that led to this precise moment.

As evidenced by the ongoing attacks — even during the negotiations of a U.S. peace deal — the Taliban is laser-focused on challenging the legitimacy and stability of the Afghan government.

In addition to its destabilizing attacks against Afghan security forces, a shadow regime is an ideological assault against the Afghan government and the Western forces that have fought and sacrificed to see it established over the last 20 years.

The appointment of Taliban leader Akhundzada as the sovereign leader of Afghanistan is also a reinforcement of the Taliban’s barbaric interpretation of Islamic theocracy.

Akhundzada is said to have issued many of the Taliban’s fatwas.  He also served as the head of the Taliban’s Islamic courts. While the fatwa represents one religious ruling and can be countered or superseded by another fatwa, it’s important to note that no counter fatwa has been issued.

Given that the Taliban has been assassinating moderate religious clerics, it’s unlikely anyone will step forward within Afghanistan to challenge the Taliban. It would be a suicide mission to challenge this new leader who previously issued fatwas, served in religious courts and has earned the admiration and praise of jihadis for remaining in Afghanistan through its last generational war.

In addition, any counter fatwa from an outside group challenging the Taliban’s fatwa has no guarantee of being recognized either.

As Ryan Mauro, director of Clarion’s intelligence network, reported in 2019, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri (the terror mastermind behind Osama bin Laden) publicly pledged allegiance to Akhundzada.

Also noteworthy is the fact that Al-Qaeda benefited from the “Taliban umbrella,” which it used to gain strength in the region.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid attempted to downplay the fatwa to Western media, saying that the fatwa is “the opinion of the group’s religious scholars” (language that attempts to distance the fatwa from the group itself).

Yet, what Western media outlets haven’t caught onto is the fact that the group’s religious scholars are not some fringe band of clerics; they are the group’s leaders. Akhundzada is not only a religious cleric issuing fatwas and serving on courts, he is now the appointed head of a shadow regime in Afghanistan — and his opinion shapes the group.

It is also critical to remember that nothing the Taliban is currently doing is out of alignment with the usual brutality with which they conduct themselves. They do not recognize any other authority in Afghanistan other than themselves, let alone a Western power.

As the fatwa details, the emir’s rule isn’t absolved by a peace deal:

“As this 19-year jihad against the foreign occupation was waged under the command of a legal emir, the termination of occupation agreement does not mean that his [Akhundzada’s] rule is absolved. The mujahideen [jihadi warriors] must work to establish an Islamic government ruled by an emir. That obligation is the next step after U.S. and its allies troops leave.”

“Until the occupation is completely severed from its roots and an Islamic government formed, the mujahideen [Taliban] shall continue waging armed jihad and exerting efforts for the implementation of Islamic rule.”

The Taliban is at war with democratic Afghanistan, with an Islamic state as its goal.  The Taliban have always seen themselves as liberators and holy warriors.

The war for control of Afghanistan is very much a theocratic battle for them; simply challenging that model with a secular government and “peace treaties” does nothing to solve this stand-off — especially as Western powers seek to exit Afghanistan.

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Shireen Qudosi

Shireen Qudosi is Clarion Project's National Correspondent.

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