The Taliban, from Mullah Mohammad Omar to Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada

By: Ali Sajad Mawlaee

During the period when Afghanistan and the Taliban were trying to make peace, many domestic and foreign lobbyists for the Taliban tried to make people believe that the Taliban had changed and was no longer the strict, traditional, regressive, and fanatical group it had been in the 1990s. The Taliban’s strategists argued that they would follow international standards, respect women’s and human rights, and have good relationships with the rest of the world in order to change the Taliban’s image and get rid of its bad reputation. However, since the Taliban have been in control of Afghanistan for one and a half years, it is clear that their actions, words, and beliefs have not changed and have become even more extreme in some cases.


If we compare the Taliban’s ideology during the times of Mullah Mohammad Omar and Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada, we will find that there has been no change in their beliefs between the two leaders.

The Taliban’s Perception of Women

Under Mullah Omar’s leadership, women were treated as objects and not allowed to do anything outside of their homes. Mullah Hibatullah’s leadership has similar attitudes towards women, as they are still denied their rights. The Taliban has removed women and girls from four positions: politics, public life, public spaces, education, and the workforce. They have also banned girls from attending secondary and high schools, separated boys’ and girls’ classrooms in universities, and stopped girls from attending universities and other academic institutions.

Recently, the Taliban prohibited girls from taking an entrance exam for medical school, regardless of their interest in the field. This shows that the Taliban have not changed much from their previous regime, and in some cases have even been more aggressive. They issued an order to all female employees in government offices, telling them not to come to work until further notice, and only allowing women to work if their job requires skills that men do not possess. Waheed Muzhda stated that the Taliban had previously issued a similar directive, and during that time, only one woman was allowed to enter the National Archives and start working there, since no one else could do her job. Therefore, it is clear that the Taliban’s views on women have not changed, based on the orders of Mullah Omar and Mullah Hibatullah.

Mullah Omar’s Orders Against Women

Mullah Hibatullah’s Orders Against Women
Afghans are not permitted to give a woman to the family of the murdered in exchange for a dowry, peace, or any other benefits. A woman is not owned by anyone and cannot be traded for any kind of benefit.
In Sharia law, Afghans are not permitted to pressure a widow to marry a family member of her deceased husband; instead, she is allowed to make her own decision regarding remarriage. No one, including the brother-in-law, can force a widow to remarry until four months and ten days have passed since her husband’s death. The widow has the right to make her own decisions about marriage, as long as the principles of equity, prevention of corruption, and prevention of sedition are taken into account.

There are many similarities between the two rules, as can be seen. Mullah Hibatullah amended Mullah Omar’s decree and gave a more thorough explanation. Both decrees have the same format and cover the same topics, such as inheritance and marriage. They both highlighted that, in accordance with Islamic Sharia, women have a wide range of rights and that those rights should be respected. It is worth noting that neither of the Taliban leaders mentioned women’s employment or educational opportunities.

International Recognition

The Taliban have had difficulty establishing international relations in both of their regimes. During Mullah Omar’s leadership, the Taliban had few supporters and were not recognized by the United Nations or many other countries due to their close ties to Al-Qaeda. Mullah Omar refused to turn over Osama bin Laden to the United States, and Mullah Hibatullah continues to reject Pakistan’s request for TTP leaders. According to Andrew Small’s book, The China–Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics, the Chinese ambassador met with Mullah Omar in Kandahar in the late 2000s and asked the Taliban to stop hosting Uighur extremists affiliated with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement in Afghanistan, but this agreement was not successful. The Taliban leaders thought that China would accept their government and oppose any further international sanctions. Despite this, Mullah Omar did not force the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan to leave Afghanistan. However, China did not oppose the international sanctions against the Taliban, and even voted in favour of them. It seems that the Taliban have been providing shelter to foreign terrorists since Mullah Omar allowed Osama Bin Laden to stay, and now Hibatullah is giving refuge to Mufti Noor Wali Mahsud, the leader of the TTP.

Opium Cultivation

On April 3, 2022, Mullah Hibatullah issued an order prohibiting the cultivation of opium in any form, resulting in a dramatic increase in opium prices in the southern parts of Afghanistan. This is strikingly similar to Mullah Omar’s order from 2001, which also caused a dramatic rise in opium prices in Afghanistan. The Taliban would buy opium at a discounted price from the marketplaces and then resell it for a higher cost, demonstrating the mutually beneficial and historical connections between opium and the Taliban.

Southern Afghanistan is the primary center for drug cultivation, as it is the birthplace of the Taliban. The vast and fertile lands of Helmand and Kandahar have made the region an ideal spot for opium cultivation and trafficking. The potential for financial gain from opium production is a major draw for farmers to begin growing the crop.

There are several theories about how the Taliban came to be. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid has a particular view: “The Taliban gained power and recognition when Islamic factions on the road stopped and blackmailed armored vehicles travelling to Central Asia. The caravans were allowed to pass, and the Taliban grew in strength.” Public dissatisfaction with the Taliban and their constant conflicts are also a factor in this. Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, one of the Taliban’s founders, wrote in his book about the security situation in Kandahar: “Every group had roadblocks in every corner of the city, and they were constantly harassing people. Along with other members of the Taliban, Mullah Omar made the decision to fight back against these groups and take back their territories.”

In her book “Looking for the Enemy: Mullah Omar and the Unknown Taliban,” Bette Dam mentions that the Taliban members in Kandahar were dissatisfied with the poor conditions and were in need of financial help. As a result, Haji Beshr Noorzai, one of the largest drug traffickers in southern Afghanistan, offered weapons and cash to the Taliban. Major Taliban figures such as Mullah Omar, Mullah Ghani Baradar, and Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef were part of this faction. Haji Beshr Noorzai then gave Mullah Omar cash and weapons in exchange for securing Noorzai’s drug caravans. This marked the beginning of the Taliban’s involvement with drugs, which became their primary source of income. In addition to drug production and trafficking, the Taliban also collected taxes from farmers, providing them with an additional source of income. The money made from opium production and trafficking over the past 20 years has helped to fund the Taliban’s war machine.

Mullah Omar and Mullah Hibatullah both attempted to increase the Taliban’s international recognition by issuing orders that included elements of marketing. However, the UN’s most recent numbers show that Afghanistan is still the world’s main source of illegal drugs, producing 85% of the world’s supply. This indicates that the Taliban’s rule was largely ceremonial and had little practical effect. Mullah Omar had previously issued an order that prohibited the cultivation of hashish within the country, but allowed for the cultivation of drugs outside of Afghanistan. This order preceded the one that limited opium cultivation in Afghanistan.

Mullah Hibatullah has tried to follow in Mullah Omar’s footsteps by introducing similar strict religious laws. There are many similarities between the orders of Mullah Hibatullah and Mullah Omar regarding cleanliness and the supervision of children in camps. It is clear that the Taliban’s methods of rule have not changed much since Mullah Hibatullah took over in Afghanistan. Although Mullah Hibatullah’s orders are similar to those of Mullah Omar, he is trying to present them in a more modern way.

Mullah Hasan Akhund believes that the Taliban have not changed since the time of Mullah Omar, and that this is an opportunity for them to lead the people in the right direction. This is similar to what Mullah Omar said, that the Taliban should strive to create a religious government. The Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islam has kept them as extremists, and they still uphold traditional Afghan customs and have become even more extreme due to their strong religious beliefs.