The Afghan Taliban have announced a new leader to replace Mullah Akhtar Mansour who was killed in a US drone strike.In a statement, the Taliban acknowledged Mansour’s death for the first time and named his successor as Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada.Analysts say it is unlikely the group will change direction under hardline religious scholar Akhundzada.Last year the Taliban were plunged into turmoil when Mansour replaced the group’s founder Mullah Mohammad Omar.Mansour was killed in a strike on his car in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on Saturday.Under his stewardship, the Taliban refused to take part in peace talks.
Instead, militant attacks escalated and became more daring.Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, a former head of the Taliban courts, was a deputy leader to Mansour. “Hibatullah Akhundzada has been appointed as the new leader of the Islamic Emirate (Taliban) after a unanimous agreement in the shura (supreme council), and all the members of shura pledged allegiance to him,” the Taliban said in a statement.It also said that Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, would become a joint deputy head of the movement, alongside current deputy leader Sirajuddin Haqqani.Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is much more well known, is leader of the Haqqani network which has been blamed for some of the most violent attacks inside Afghanistan.The group is known for its daring raids on Western and Afghan targets, particularly in Kabul.Mansour named Akhundzada as his successor in his will, Taliban sources told AFP, in what may be an attempt to legitimise the transition.A spokesman for Afghanistan’s chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, urged the new Taliban leader to join talks.”We invite Mula Hibatullah to peace. Political settlement is the only option for the Taliban or new leadership will face the fate of Mansour,” Javid Faisal tweeted. In 2015 the Taliban was deeply divided over the selection of Mullah Mansour as the new leader.But the BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder in Kabul says the appointment of Akhundzada appears to be uncontroversial. The fact that he comes from the traditional Taliban stronghold of Kandahar is likely to please rank-and-file fighters.Separately on Wednesday, 10 people were killed and four injured in a suicide attack that hit a bus carrying court employees in Kabul, government officials told the BBC.