By Alasdair Pal
(Reuters) - Mohammad Hasan Akhund, the senior Taliban leader appointed as acting Afghan prime minister, is an experienced former cabinet minister with the ear of the movement's spiritual head, according to Taliban sources and analysts.
Akhund is longtime head of the Taliban’s powerful decision-making body Rehbari Shura, or leadership council. Analysts see Akhund as a political figure, with his control over the leadership council also giving him a say in military affairs.
When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, he served first as foreign minister and then as deputy prime minister. Like many of the incoming cabinet, he is under U.N. sanctions for his role in that government.
Akhund does not appear to be a religious scholar with the standing of spiritual leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, according to Asfandyar Mir, an analyst at the United States Institute for Peace, who has closely studied the Taliban leadership.
"He appears to be more of a political person," he said. "His main claim to power is that he had a very senior role pre-9/11."
Like many in the hardline Islamist movement's leadership, Akhund derives much of his prestige from his advanced years and proximity to the Taliban's late founder, Mullah Omar.
Akhund is believed at least in his mid-60s and possibly older. A European Union sanctions notice puts him as old as 76.
"He is very old in age, he is the oldest person in (senior) Taliban ranks," said a Taliban source.
A U.N. sanctions report describes him as having been a "close associate and political adviser" to Omar, and one of the Taliban's most effective commanders.
Akhund is also well regarded across the organisation and is particularly close to Akhundzada, a Taliban source said.
"People respect him very highly, especially Amir al-Mu'minin (Commander of the Faithful)," he said, using Akhundzada's honorific title.
At the same time, as an ethnic Pashtun from the southern province of Kandahar, from which the Taliban emerged in the early 1990s and where it draws some of its strongest support, he is likely to appeal to the movement's core base, Mir said.
But like many of the group's leaders, little is known in the West about his thinking, he added
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Mark Heinrich)