On Saturday, Acting Afghan Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is also the Afghan Taliban’s deputy head and is still wanted by the US, appeared in public for the first time and was openly photographed.
On the US “most wanted” lists, Haqqani’s only image is a blurry semi-covered profile. Even after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan last August, he has only been pictured clearly from behind.
On Saturday, he did make a public appearance in Kabul, when he spoke during a passing-out parade for new Afghan police recruits.
In a speech at the parade, he remarked, “For your satisfaction and to strengthen your trust… I am appearing in the media in a public meeting with you.” He informed police authorities, “I stood in front of the media for the first time because of your credibility and to value you.”
“Perform your duty… and interact with the people with compassion and kindness,” he urged the officers.
His remarks came two days after the Taliban allegedly shot and killed a young man in eastern Kunar province who was playing music at his brother’s wedding.
According to the Taliban police chief in Kunar, the Taliban men who were involved in the incident have been apprehended and will be judged under Sharia law.
Afghanistan’s national television broadcasted the police passing-out procession live.
Haqqani also urged Afghans who have fled the country to return home.
Taliban officials had previously only provided photos of Haqqani that didn’t show his face or that were digitally blurred, but pictures of him were extensively shared on social media on Saturday.
Haqqani was thickly bearded and wore a black turban and white shawl at the police march, as were many other prominent Taliban officials.
Haqqani was one of the first top leaders to arrive in Kabul in August of last year, but he has kept a low profile in recent months. He would meet with international dignitaries and Taliban officials, but the photos from these encounters were always blurry. He did once appear on television, but his face was obscured.
Haqqani is the leader of the Haqqani network, which the US has labelled as a terror organisation for carrying out multiple major assaults against foreign and Afghan forces throughout Afghanistan’s 20-year-long conflict. The Taliban, on the other hand, argue that there is no different faction within the organisation.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued a warrant for Haqqani’s arrest, with a reward of $10 million being offered for information leading to his capture.
He is the son of Jalauddin Haqqani, a Mujahideen leader who fought against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. After joining the Taliban, the elder Haqqani served as a minister in the previous Taliban government.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Afghan Taliban’s deputy head, is referred to as “khalifa” by the Afghan Taliban and allied fighters.
The US is also looking for his uncle, Afghan interim minister for refugees Khalilur Rahman.
In light of security threats and US drones frequently flying over Kabul, Rahman has also kept a low profile.
Only the Taliban’s leader, Sheikh Hibatullah Akhundzad, has yet to make an appearance in public. Since the Taliban took over Kabul, he has met with other Taliban commanders on a regular basis in Kandahar, but his photo or video has never been published with the public.
A Taliban senior who met with Akhundzada in Kandahar last month told Dawn.com that the chief is now discussing the installation of a permanent cabinet, which is considered as an effort to persuade the international community to recognise the Taliban administration.
The Haqqani network was implicated by US and Afghan officials for a huge truck explosion in 2017 that officials termed as “one of the biggest” to hit the Afghan capital.
The truck bombing outside the German Embassy, which was believed to be the deadliest such incident since the American-led invasion in 2001, killed almost 150 people and injured more than 300, according to former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.