Taliban’s reclusive supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada joins religious circle in Kabul

More than 3,000 men participated in the key Taliban religious gathering

Taliban inside Afghan Presidential Palace in Kabul

Taliban’s chief leader Haibatullah Akhundzada made a rare appearance at a large gathering of religious clerics called loya jirga in Kabul on Friday but no decision was made regarding the stalled education of girls and women in the country.

Mr Akhundzada also delivered a speech at the nationwide gathering in the capital which took place under heavy security, in what is his first appearance in public after the hardline Islamist group took control of Afghanistan in August last year.

Addressing the gathering, the Taliban’s ultimate authority congratulated all on the “victory that led to the liberation of our country and the subsequent establishment of the Islamic system”, referring to the establishment of Taliban government in Afghanistan after the US-led forces withdrew.

“In these 20 years that everyone has sacrificed, they are tired. May Allah the Exalted accept it. I wish the families of the martyrs and the orphans well. Whoever supports our jihad, in word, deed and moral form, may Allah accept him,” he was quoted as saying by Bilal Karimi, the deputy spokesperson of the Afghanistan government.

“The success of the Afghan jihad is not only a source of pride for Afghans but also for Muslims all over the world,” he said.

The hardline cleric, whose son was a suicide bomber, also thanked the supporters of his administration for helping the victims of the earthquake that killed more than 1,000 people on 22 June.

More than 3,000 men participated in the key Taliban religious gathering; no woman was allowed to be present for the event.

The topics of discussion at the gathering included national unity, the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan, the recent earthquake and the education of girls.

Based in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, Mr Akhundzada resumed the role of helming the Taliban as its supreme leader in 2016. He is rarely seen in public.

This is the Taliban’s first such meeting since taking control of Afghanistan from US forces.

He hailed the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and said: “A few years ago, no one could take the name of jihad and mujahid. It was the blessing of jihad that the country was liberated and everything became our own.”

“We are still facing a kind of confrontation, where others want to implement their demands and we pursue our goals,” tweeted Mr Karimi, quoting the supreme leader.

Gunfire erupted near the venue but Taliban officials said it was caused by security men firing at a “suspicious location”. They later said the situation was under control.

One of the Taliban participants, Sayed Nassrullah Waizi from central Bamiyan province, called for allowing girls in the country to access education and permitting them to go to high school.

Addressing the issue in the meeting on Friday, the Taliban’s deputy chief and acting interior minister, Sirajudding Haqqani, said that the world is demanding inclusive government and education, and the issues needed time.

“This gathering is about trust, interaction; we are here to make our future according to Islam and to national interests,” Mr Haqqani said.

The Taliban respected the decisions of those present in the meeting, it said, but the final word on whether the girls will be allowed access to education was up to the Mr Akhunzada, the government’s spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said.

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