KABUL/KARACHI (BNO NEWS) — Former Taliban defense minister Obaidullah Akhund died of heart disease in a Pakistani prison in March 2010, a Taliban spokesman confirmed on Monday. Little had been heard of Akhund since early 2007.
Akhund served as defense minister from September 1996 until late 2001 when the Taliban ruled large parts of Afghanistan. He was considered to be the third most senior Taliban leader with close links to Taliban leader Mohammed Omar and possibly al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed last year.
Akhund was arrested by Pakistani security forces in the southwestern city of Quetta in early 2007, but the Pakistani government never commented on what was the highest-ranking Taliban figure to be captured since the fall of the Taliban’s regime in late 2001.
News of Akhund’s arrest emerged via intelligence officials during a visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney to Pakistan in March 2007. Although intelligence officials said he was arrested in late February 2007, the Taliban said he had been arrested on January 3, 2007, while visiting the region.
On Monday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Akhund’s family recently received confirmation that he died of heart disease on March 5, 2010, while being held at a prison in the Pakistani city of Karachi. “To validate this distressing news, the family has attained trustworthy evidence which confirms his passing away,” Mujahid said in a statement.
The Taliban spokesman did not say how Akhund’s family confirmed his death. “It is still not established if this distinguished personality of the Islamic Ummah and Afghanistan passed away due to heart complications or if he was martyred due to torture while being imprisoned,” he added.
Mujahid said the death of Akhund leaves a void “which cannot be compensated” and urged the Pakistani government to provide details about the former defense minister’s detention, illness and death. “We also hold the International Red Cross responsible,” he said, criticizing the organization for not sharing information with them about the condition of Akhund and other Taliban inmates. “We also demand that they fill this shortcoming in the future as it is their obligation,” he said.