The Supreme Leader of the Taliban Haibatullah Akhundzada has tested positive for Coronavirus and may have died while receiving treatment, some Taliban officials told Foreign Policy.
Confirmation of his ongoing treatment came from a senior military leader in the group, Moulawi Muhammad Ali Jan Ahmed who told the publication, “Our leader is sick, but he is recovering.”
However, three other Taliban figures in Pakistan, who spoke to Foreign Policy on condition of anonymity, believe Akhunzada died while receiving treatment.
No official confirmation or explanation has come from the group yet.
Over the weekend news first emerged that many serious Taliban leaders had contracted the virus.
A senior Afghan government official also revealed that many Taliban leaders in Qatar, where the group’s political wing resides, were also ill with COVID-19. The same members were part of the negotiations with the U.S. when the peace deal was signed in February.
“This is significant because if talks [between the Afghan government and the Taliban] are likely not to start within the next few weeks if they’re sick, how long will they keep up the cease-fire?” the official, who did not want to be identified, told Foreign Policy.
Taliban leader and co-founder Akhundzada, had been absent for the past three months. He had also not been attending any high-level meetings. No audio or video message had been recorded by him. Even the annual Eid Al-Fitr greeting was released as a statement.
Ahmed, the senior Taliban official, said Akhunzada was in the hospital but would not reveal where. On Monday, Rahmatullah Nabil, former head of the Afghan National Directorate of Security, said several senior leaders are admitted in a military hospital in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.
When asked if Akhundzada was in Pakistan, the Taliban official said: “Why do you people think that Pakistan is the only country [where he would be hospitalised]? There are other countries that are stronger than Pakistan, that support us, and the world knows that. I will not name the country, but it is a powerful country that is one of our allies.”
Some Taliban sources in Pakistan have also said Akhunzada has gone to Russia for treatment.
Last week, Foreign Policy also revealed that Akhundzada’s deputy, Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the jihadi Haqqani network, had tested positive for the virus.
The crisis in Taliban has come at an inopportune time when the peace negotiations with the Afghan government were about to start.
With the top two leaders out of action, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of the deceased founder Mullah Mohammed Omar, is now running the group.
The Taliban had called for a three-day ceasefire on Eid Al-Fitr. Government sources have indicated that the ceasefire would continue to hold.