Updated: September 9, 2021 2:14:23 pm
In 1996, the last time the Taliban had captured Afghanistan, there was never a question of what form of government they would install and who would rule the country. They were filling a vacuum, and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the reclusive cleric who had led the movement since its beginnings two years earlier, took charge.
Circumstances, however, are very different today. As the Taliban announced the formation of the new Afghanistan government, Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, who is on a UN sanctions’ list, was named the acting Prime Minister.
Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who was once the frontrunner to becoming the PM, will be one of the deputies. Baradar, who heads the Taliban’s political office and is also the co-founder of the group, will be joined by Abdul Salam Hanafi, who was most recently part of peace talks in Doha.
Who is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar?
Mullah Baradar belongs to the Popalzai Pashtun tribe, and is known as a co-founder of the Taliban along with Mullah Muhammad Omar, the first Amir. Baradar was among the few dozen original members of the Taliban, and currently heads the group’s political office. His name means “brother” and was conferred by Mullah Omar himself as a mark of affection.
Born into an influential Pushtun tribe in southern Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province in 1968, in his youth, Mullah Baradar fought with mujahideen guerrillas against Soviet troops, and the Afghan government they left behind. After the Russians withdrew in 1989 and the country fell into civil war between rival warlords, he set up a madrassa in Kandahar with his former commander and reputed brother-in-law, Mohammad Omar. Together, the two mullahs founded the Taliban, a movement spearheaded by young Islamic scholars dedicated to the religious purification of the country and the creation of an emirate.
Baradar, Mullah Omar’s deputy who was widely believed to be a highly effective strategist, was a key architect of the Taliban sweeping to power in 1996. During its five-year rule, before being ousted by US and Afghan forces, Baradar held a host of key posts, including that of the deputy minister of defence.
During the Taliban’s 20-year exile, Baradar had the reputation of being a potent military leader and a subtle political operator. However, the West was wary of his powers and finally, the Obama administration, in 2010 had tracked him down to Karachi and persuaded the ISI to arrest him. In 2010, Baradar was detained by the ISI as he had begun to respond to overtures for peace talks from then President Hamid Karzai, a fellow Popalzai. Karzai was anything but Pakistan’s man, and through his years in office and until months ago, was vocal about the role of the Pakistan military in the conflict.
Baradar spent eight years in incarceration, and was released only when the Trump Administration launched talks with the Taliban in 2018. He headed the nine-member Taliban team that negotiated with US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad — they were the two signatories to the Doha Agreement last year, by which the US agreed to withdraw its troops on condition that the Taliban would not shelter Al-Qaeda or ISIS, and would hold negotiations with other Afghans to arrive at a political settlement to end the war.
He then became the Taliban’s chief ambassador, conducting dozens of face-to-face meetings with officials from regional powers such as Pakistan and China, leaders of other Islamist movements, and speaking on the telephone to President Trump.
What does Baradar’s rise to power mean?
In his first comment after the capture of Kabul on August 15, Baradar acknowledged his surprise, saying that “it was never expected that we will have victory in Afghanistan”. Wearing a black turban and vest over a white robe, the bespectacled co-founder of the group, while looking straight into the camera, added, “Now comes the test,” he said. “We must meet the challenge of serving and securing our nation, and giving it a stable life going forward.”
However, as he is set to become the Number 2 in the Afghanistan government, what is quite clearly visible is the Taliban’s inability to break from the shackles of the past. When it comes to his relations with Pakistan, it is unclear if Baradar has now made his peace with them, which hand-held the Taliban through the talks. But, what is evident is that as he becomes one of the most important persons in the Afghanistan government, he is likely to be more independent minded than the Pakistani security establishment — the Army and ISI — would like.
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