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The Taliban on Wednesday said their Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada will be Afghanistan's top authority and a president or prime minister will run the country under his direction, local and international media reported.
“There is no doubt about the presence of the Commander of the Faithful [Akhundzada] in the government. He will be the leader of the government and there should be no question on this, “said Anamullah Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission, according to ToloNews.
A senior Taliban official also told Reuters that Mr Akhundzada will have ultimate power over the governing council.
The supreme Taliban leader has three deputies: Mawlavi Yaqoob, son of the movement's late founder Mullah Omar; Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the powerful Haqqani network; and Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the founding members of the group.
The Taliban ran their first government with an unelected leadership council which brutally enforced a radical form of Sharia from 1996 until it was overpowered by US-led forces in 2001.
The Taliban have tried to present a more moderate face to the world since they swept aside the US-backed government and returned to power last month, promising to protect human rights and refrain from reprisals against old enemies.
But the US, European Union and others have cast doubt on such assurances, saying formal recognition of the new government - and the economic aid that would flow from that - is contingent on action.
“We're not going to take them at their word, we're going to take them at their deeds,” US Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland told a news briefing on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the militant group said discussions on who will be in the new government are almost finished and they will be making an announcement soon.
“Consultations are almost finalised on the new government, and the necessary discussions have also been held about the cabinet. The Islamic government that we will announce will be a … model for the people,” Mr Samangani said.
Analyst Mohammad Hassan Haqyar told ToloNews that the new government “should be neither republic nor emirate. It should be something like an Islamic government. Hebatullah [Akhundzada] should be at the top of the government, and he will not be the president. He will be the leader of Afghanistan. Below him there will be a prime minister or a president that will work under his oversight.”
The last US troops left Afghanistan just before midnight on Tuesday, ending the two-decade conflict, after the Taliban's lightning capture of much of the country led to the collapse of the government of Ashraf Ghani.
While the Taliban are cementing control of Kabul and provincial capitals, they are fighting with opposition groups and remnants of the Afghan army holding out in mountains north of the capital.
Mr Akhundzada has been more of a figurehead than a key player. He is the third person to fill the role of spiritual leader, often issuing fatwas or religious rulings on a range of topics.
He came to power in 2016 after his predecessor Akhtar Mansour was killed in a US drone strike.
Born in Kandahar's Panjwayi district in 1961, his family moved to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of 1979 before Mr Akhundzada fought against the Soviets in the early 1980s.
In 1996, upon the Taliban capture of Kabul during the Afghan civil war of the 1990s, which ushered in Taliban rule until 2001, Mr Akhundzada became a member of the group's Department of the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which enforced the Taliban's interpretation of Sharia.
He rose through the ranks, becoming a spiritual adviser to Mohammed Omar, the group's leader and co-founder, and then served as the group's deputy leader in 2015.
Omar is remembered for refusing to hand over wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden in 2001 after the September 11 attacks, leading the US to rally an international alliance against the Taliban.
Mr Akhundzada survived two assassination attempts — one in 2012 and another in 2019 by Afghan forces.