Afghanistan Sees Taliban Leader As Rigid Conservative Uninterested In Peace

International Business Times 

The Afghan government is looking warily at the conservative religious scholar who has assumed leadership of the Taliban, seeing in him a rigid proponent of hardline orthodoxy who is unlikely to favor peace talks, officials said. A day after the Afghan Taliban announced that Haibadullah Akhundzada would take over after Mullah Akhtar Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, officials on Thursday were trying to form a picture of a leader best known for relentlessly applying strict sharia, or Islamic law. In his former role as one of the Taliban insurgency's senior judges, he was responsible for issuing a series of death sentences against opponents of Mansour, according to General Abdul Razeq, police chief of Akhundzada's home city of Kandahar. Officials said he appeared to favor a return to the austere and often harsh Islamic rule in Afghanistan before the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001, something that would be unacceptable to the Afghan government and its Western backers. "He is a simple religious cleric," said Haji Agha Lalai, an adviser to President Ashraf Ghani, who added that Akhundzada would rely heavily on his deputy Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the feared Haqqani network, for battlefield decisions.