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The reclusive Taliban Supreme Leader attends a meeting of Afghan clerics

#reclusive #Taliban #Supreme #Leader #attends #meeting #Afghan #clerics

The reclusive Taliban supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, appeared on Friday at a large gathering of clerics in the Afghan capital called to sanction the hardline Islamist group’s rule over the country.

Akhundzada, who has not been publicly filmed or photographed since the Taliban returned in August, will address the gathering later, government spokesman Bilal Karimi tweeted.

His arrival, which was broadcast on state radio, was greeted with cheers and chants, including “Long live the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” as the Taliban call the country.

Over 3,000 clergy and elders have gathered in Kabul since Thursday for the three-day gathering, and Akhundzada’s appearance has been rumored for days – although the media is not allowed to cover the event.

He rarely leaves Kandahar, the Taliban’s birthplace and spiritual heartland, leaving almost no digital footprint apart from an undated photograph and several audio recordings of speeches.

But analysts say Akhundzada, believed to be in his 70s, has a firm grip on the movement and holds the title of “Commander of the Faithful”.

Akhundzada’s performance comes a week after a powerful earthquake hit the east of the country, killing over 1,000 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

No women are attending the clergy meeting, but a Taliban source told AFP this week sensitive issues such as girls’ education – who have divided opinions in the movement – would be discussed.

Since the Taliban’s return, secondary school girls have been barred from education, women have been fired from government jobs, forbidden to travel alone and ordered to wear clothing that covers everything but their face.

They have also banned the playing of non-religious music, banned the depiction of human figures in advertisements, ordered TV stations not to show films and soap operas featuring uncovered women, and told men to dress in traditional attire and grow beards.

– Increased security –

The Taliban have thrown a tight security blanket over the capital for the meeting, but two gunmen were shot dead near the venue on Thursday.

Officials said the two fired from a rooftop but were “quickly eliminated by mujahideen with the help of Allah Almighty”.

Officials have provided scant details about the three-day, male-only “jirga” — a traditional gathering of clerics and influential figures who resolve differences by consensus.

But most speeches so far have focused on loyalty to the Taliban regime and severe punishment for those who oppose it.

“Obedience is the most important principle of the system,” said Habibullah Haqqani, the head of the assembly, in his opening speech.

“We must sincerely and truly obey all our leaders in all matters.”

A leading cleric said Thursday that anyone trying to overthrow the Taliban regime should be beheaded.

“This (Taliban) flag was not lightly raised, and it will not be lightly lowered,” Mujib ur Rahman Ansari, the imam of the Gazargah Mosque in Herat, told the gathering.

“All religious scholars from across Afghanistan should come to this conclusion…whoever commits the smallest act against our Islamic government should be beheaded.”

Women’s rights activists have criticized their lack of participation.

“Women should be part of the decisions about their destiny,” Razia Barakzai told AFP on Thursday.

“Afghan women’s lives were taken.”

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