KABUL (AFP) – Taliban’s reclusive leader Hibatullah Akhundzada called Friday for the world to stop telling them how to run Afghanistan.
Akhundzada, who has not been filmed or photographed in public since the Taliban returned to power in August, was addressing a major gathering of religious scholars in the Afghan capital called to rubber-stamp the group’s rule.
Over 3,000 clerics have gathered in Kabul since Thursday for the three-day men-only meeting, and Akhundzada’s appearance had been rumored for days — although media are barred from covering the event.
“Why is the world interfering in our affairs?” he asked in an hour-long speech broadcast by state radio.
“They say ‘why don’t you do this, why don’t you do that?’ Why does the world interfere in our work?”
Akhundzada rarely leaves Kandahar, the Taliban’s birthplace and spiritual heartland, and apart from one undated photograph and several audio recordings of speeches, has almost no digital footprint.
But analysts say the former court judge has an iron grip on the movement and he bears the title “Commander of the Faithful.”
His arrival at the meeting hall was greeted with cheers and chants, including “Long live the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the Taliban’s name for the country.
Akhundzada’s appearance comes a week after a powerful earthquake struck the east of the country, killing over 1,000 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
No women are attending the clerics’ meeting, but a Taliban source told AFP this week that thorny issues such as girls’ education — which has divided opinion in the movement — would be discussed.
Since the Taliban’s return, secondary school girls have been barred from education and women dismissed from government jobs, forbidden from traveling alone, and ordered to dress in clothing that covers everything but their faces.
Akhundzada said the Taliban had won victory for Afghanistan, but it was up to the “ulema” — the religious scholars — to advise the new rulers on how to properly implement the law.