The head of the Afghan Taliban has ordered officials in the movement to take only one wife because extravagant weddings and bridal payments are depleting funds and leading to accusations of embezzlement.

The edict from Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada was also an attempt to quash bad publicity that Taliban leaders were having profligate weddings.

“We instruct officials of the Islamic Emirate, in accordance with Islamic Sharia [Islamic jurisprudence], to avoid second, third, and fourth marriage if there is no need,” he said in a written message earlier this month, Voice of America reported.

Taliban officials have been instructed to share the order with their subordinates after complaints about the scale of spending on weddings.

Afghans face huge social pressure to spend lavishly on their nuptials, while the groom must also often pay a hefty sum to the bride’s family. Wives are sometimes kept in separate houses, meaning a groom must fund several households.

“Up-to two million Afghanis (nearly £19,000) are paid for dowry in some parts of Afghanistan and the Taliban officials would seek this money for their second marriage,” one source told the broadcaster.

The movement has also sometimes faced internal tensions as frontline fighters resent the movement’s leadership appearing to lead the high life in Pakistan or Doha. 

“Families of several officials of the Islamic Emirate do not have a lot of money.  Therefore, more marriages could affect their prestige, trustworthiness, and personality,” the message said.

The message urged the movement to “protect yourself against accusation and disgrace,” adding that “transparency” and “gaining trust” were essential for their struggle.

Abstaining from multiple marriages would protect the Taliban from “accusations of bribery, misappropriation, or embezzlement” and save them from seeking illicit sources of wealth.

Akhundzada told followers that the orders were based on Islamic injunctions and have the support of religious scholars. Islam allows men to have up to four wives as long as they are treated equally, though the practice is frowned upon and uncommon in many Muslim societies.

The message said there were exemptions to the new rule for officials who had a “legitimate need” or who used their own funds for weddings.