PESHAWAR: The Afghan Taliban Monday confirmed that their top leader and former defence minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund had died in the custody of Pakistani security agencies.
Senior Afghan Taliban commanders felt that news of the death of their revered leader at this stage when crucial talks with the United States were in progress was an attempt to strain relations between the Taliban and Pakistan. “We knew he had died in custody and he was not the only one held by Pakistani security who died or was killed. But this is not a good time to break the news of his death in a Pakistani jail. It is an attempt by the enemies of peace in the region and a conspiracy to strain our relations with Pakistan,” a senior Taliban commander and an old friend of Obaidullah Akhund told this correspondent.
Pleading anonymity, he said two other Taliban commanders, Mullah Ameer Khan Haqqani, former Taliban governor of Zabul province, and Abdul Bari, the governor of Helmand, had also been arrested along with Obaidullah Akhund, but both were later released.
“I don’t know about the charges framed against him [Akhund], but he had the habit of working independently and wanted to develop contacts with some other countries, particularly China. He was planning to purchase arms for the Taliban from China,” the anonymous Taliban leader said.
Obaidullah Akhund was considered a close aide of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar and was said to have played a key role in organising the Taliban resistance against US-led foreign occupation forces in Afghanistan after being ousted from power in 2001. “He wasthe second in command to Ameerul Momineen Mullah Mohammad Omar and was senior to Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar,” the Taliban commander said. He added that his family was in touch with him and used to take clothes for him to the jail where he was being held.
“The family had learnt long ago about his death. They were told by Pakistani officials not to bring clothes anymore as he was no more,” the militant commander said.
Obaidullah Akhund reportedly died of cardiac arrest. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The News that Obaidullah Akhund died in a Pakistani prison in Karachi on March 5, 2010. He had been in custody of Pakistani security agencies since his capture from a house in Quetta on March 1, 2007. The Taliban spokesman said the family of the veteran Taliban leader had evidence that Obaidullah Akhund had been ill and died of cardiac arrest.
He affirmed that Obaidullah Akhund was highly respected by the Taliban as well as the Afghan people for his sacrifices and contribution to the war against foreign forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan, meanwhile, has neither confirmed his arrest nor his death, but the Taliban spokesman said they had asked Pakistan to explain the circumstance that led to death of the leader. “Pakistan has never provided us information about the prisoners of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan but we demand it to tell us in the future as it has become a practice there (in Pakistan) to capture people,” the Taliban spokesperson said.
Obaidullah Akhund belonged to the Zheray district in Kandahar province. He had fought against Soviet occupying forces under the command of Mullah Sadiq and served as the corps commander of Kandahar during Taliban rule. He also served as the Defence Minister of the Taliban before being elevated to the position of deputy leader of the Taliban movement.