Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is the U.N.-designated co-founder of the Taliban movement. During the Taliban’s first reign in Afghanistan, Baradar served as deputy defense minister where he headed the group’s military affairs section.“ABDUL GHANI BARADAR ABDUL AHMAD TURK,” United Nations Security Councill, February 23, 2001, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1988/materials/summaries/individual/abdul-ghani-baradar-abdul-ahmad-turk. Following the Taliban’s takeover of the Afghan government on August 15, 2021, it was suspected that Baradar would serve as the president of the new Taliban government.Hugh Tomlinson, “Abdul Ghani Baradar: Taliban leader never lost faith in ‘ultimate victory’,” The Times, August 16, 2021, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/abdul-ghani-baradar-taliban-leader-never-lost-faith-in-ultimate-victory-vmxnkr6xk. However, on September 7, it was announced that Baradar will serve as co-deputy prime minister—along with Mullah Muhammad Hassan—of the Taliban’s caretaker government.Matthieu Aikins and Jim Huylebroek, “Taliban Appoint Stalwarts to Top Government Posts,” New York Times, September 7, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/07/world/asia/taliban-women-protest-kabul-afghanistan.html.
When Baradar was a teenager in the 1980s, he befriended the well-known spiritual leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. The two were members of the Pakistani-trained, anti-Soviet mujahideen, where they staged hit-and-run raids on Russian forces.Amy Kazmin, “Abdul Ghani Baradar, a founding father of the Taliban, returns home,” Financial Times, August 21, 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/a895adc1-3268-4387-8a11-5022768c6b47. When the Red Army was driven out of the country in 1989, Omar and Baradar formed a madrassa, the basis for the Taliban.Hugh Tomlinson, “Abdul Ghani Baradar: Taliban leader never lost faith in ‘ultimate victory’,” The Times, August 16, 2021, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/abdul-ghani-baradar-taliban-leader-never-lost-faith-in-ultimate-victory-vmxnkr6xk.
Under Omar’s leadership, Baradar helped found the Taliban movement in Kabul in 1994. Baradar quickly proved to be a competent operative, and soon established himself as a military strategist and commander.“Profile: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar,” BBC News, September 21, 2013, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-20582286. The Taliban, whose members were predominantly comprised of Pashtun tribesmen who fought with the mujahideen, quickly consolidated power by force throughout Afghanistan, and in 1996, seized control of the capital, Kabul.“Afghan Taliban,” National Counterterrorism Center, https://www.dni.gov/nctc/groups/afghan_taliban.html. During their reign, the Taliban enforced a strict code of sharia (Islamic law) and harbored al-Qaeda and other jihadist organizations. The Taliban, who refer to their domain as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” also received financial support from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, especially the latter’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency during this time.Carlotta Gall, “Saudis Bankroll Taliban, Even as King Officially Supports Afghan Government,” New York Times, December 6, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/world/asia/saudi-arabia-afghanistan.html. The Taliban-run government in Afghanistan was recognized by only three countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).“Who are the Taliban?,” BBC News, August 18, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11451718.
Under the Taliban regime, Baradar eventually rose to the role of deputy defense minister where he headed the Taliban military affairs section. Given his standing in the Taliban regime, the U.N. Security Council sanctioned Baradar on February 23, 2001.“ABDUL GHANI BARADAR ABDUL AHMAD TURK,” United Nations Security Councill, February 23, 2001, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1988/materials/summaries/individual/abdul-ghani-baradar-abdul-ahmad-turk.
While the Taliban hosted al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden’s group ran training camps and planned and executed numerous terrorist attacks, including the multiple airplane hijackings and strikes against the United States on September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Taliban rejected a U.S. ultimatum to turn over bin Laden and kick out al-Qaeda. In response, the U.S. and allied countries invaded Afghanistan and swiftly deposed the Taliban government.“Taliban are back - what next for Afghanistan?,” BBC News, August 18, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-49192495. After being driven out of Kabul, the Taliban operated as an insurgent force in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, attempting to expel NATO forces from Afghanistan and defeat the democratically elected Afghan government.David Zucchino, “The War in Afghanistan: How It Started and How It Is Ending,” New York Times, August 23, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/article/afghanistan-war-us.html.
A key Taliban operative, Baradar reportedly commanded the insurgency and its funding. Despite the violence carried out by the insurgent group, Baradar was known as a patient and astute political leader who was open to peace dialogues with Washington and the Afghan government.Hugh Tomlinson, “Abdul Ghani Baradar: Taliban leader never lost faith in ‘ultimate victory’,” The Times, August 16, 2021, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/abdul-ghani-baradar-taliban-leader-never-lost-faith-in-ultimate-victory-vmxnkr6xk. However, given Baradar’s role in inciting the Afghan war, he remained a threat to international forces. Baradar was captured in a joint U.S.-Pakistani raid in Karachi in February 2010, allowing the more radical leaders of the Taliban to direct the trajectory of future peace negotiations.Kathy Gannon, “Mullah’s rise charts Taliban’s long road back to power,” Associated Press, August 18, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-taliban-abdul-ghani-baradar-e80165eb6c65fc7ea8fae50212ba56c8.
Baradar remained under the radar until 2012, when his name topped the list of Taliban prisoners the Afghan government wanted released in order to encourage peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.Kevin Sieff and Joshua Partlow, “A once-vanquished insurgent returns as Afghanistan’s likely next leader,” Washington Post, August 17, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/baradar-taliban-leader-afghanistan/2021/08/17/d8485398-ff83-11eb-a664-4f6de3e17ff0_story.html; “Profile: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar,” BBC News, September 21, 2013, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-20582286. However, Baradar remained in a Pakistani prison until his release in 2018. The U.S. requested to free Baradar as Zalmay Khalizad, then U.S. President Trump’s Afghan peace envoy, claimed Baradar would be beneficial in brokering a peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States in Qatar.Hugh Tomlinson, “Abdul Ghani Baradar: Taliban leader never lost faith in ‘ultimate victory’,” The Times, August 16, 2021, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/abdul-ghani-baradar-taliban-leader-never-lost-faith-in-ultimate-victory-vmxnkr6xk.
After his release, Baradar served as the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, the insurgent group’s informal embassy.Jessica Donati and Margherita Stancati, “A Taliban Leader Emerges: Hunted, Jailed and Now Free,” Wall Street Journal, August 16, 2021, https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-taliban-leader-emerges-hunted-jailed-and-now-free-11629154710. Baradar led the Taliban’s negotiating team in Qatar, and after several rounds of dialogues, signed the Doha agreement with the United States on February 29, 2020.Kathy Gannon, “Mullah’s rise charts Taliban’s long road back to power,” Associated Press, August 18, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-taliban-abdul-ghani-baradar-e80165eb6c65fc7ea8fae50212ba56c8. The terms of the agreement stated that the United States would draw its forces down to 8,600 from 13,000 in the next three to four months, with the remaining U.S. forces withdrawing in 14 months. In exchange, the Taliban agreed to renounce al-Qaeda and prevent al-Qaeda and other groups from using Afghanistan as a base for terrorism against the United States. The Taliban also agreed to negotiate a permanent ceasefire with other Afghan militants and the Afghan government.Asad Hashim, “Pakistan warns US of ‘spoilers’ on US-Taliban deal in Afghanistan,” Al Jazeera, March 1, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/pakistan-warns-spoilers-taliban-deal-afghanistan-200302093650382.html; Matthew Lee and Kathy Gannon, “US and Taliban sign deal aimed at ending war in Afghanistan,” Associated Press, February 29, 2020, https://apnews.com/491544713df4879f399d0ff5523d369e; “Susannah George and Dan Lamothe, “Afghan government objects to elements of U.S.-Taliban peace deal,” Washington Post, March 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/afghan-government-questions-aspects-of-us-taliban-peace-deal/2020/03/01/0a973228-5a68-11ea-8efd-0f904bdd8057_story.html.
On August 6, 2021, the Taliban began an offensive against major Afghan cities with the seizure of Zaranj, capital of Nimruz province.Susannah George and Ezzatullah Mehrdad, “Taliban fighters overrun an Afghan provincial capital for the first time since withdrawal of foreign forces,” Washington Post, August 6, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/08/06/afghanistan-taliban-nimruz/. By August 13, the Taliban controlled 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals and more than two-thirds of the country.Rahim Faiez, and Joseph Krauss, “Taliban sweep across Afghanistan’s south; take 4 more cities,” Associated Press, August 13, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-taliban-c6c8d4a41c554f36031a8131538d1402. On August 15, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan and thousands of Afghans poured into Kabul’s airport as Taliban fighters entered the city. By August 16, the Taliban laid siege to the presidential palace and took complete control of Kabul, after which the Taliban declared the war in Afghanistan had ended.“Taliban declares ‘war is over’ as president and diplomats flee Kabul,” Reuters, August 15, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/talibans-rapid-advance-across-afghanistan-2021-08-10/. The Taliban has claimed that it would take on a more “moderate” approach in their ruling of the country, and that women are allowed to have roles in public life in observance of “Islamic law.”“Factbox: Taliban seek to present a moderate face as they take control in Afghanistan,” Reuters, August 15, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-seek-present-moderate-face-they-take-control-afghanistan-2021-08-15/. The United States remained committed to full withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 30, 2021. However, the evacuation of American citizens, U.S. personnel, and highly vulnerable Afghans was chaotic. By the evening of August 30, 123,000 people were evacuated from Kabul.Amanda Macias, “Biden says Afghanistan evacuation on track to finish by Aug. 31 deadline as threats to Kabul airport grow,” CNBC, August 24, 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/24/biden-sticks-to-aug-31-afghanistan-withdrawal-deadline.html; Sally Lockwood, “Afghanistan: Taliban warns there will be 'consequences' if Biden delays withdrawal of US troops,” August 24, 2021, https://news.sky.com/story/afghanistan-taliban-warns-there-will-be-consequences-if-biden-delays-withdrawal-of-us-troops-12388436; Philip Bump, “Those six-figure Kabul evacuation numbers veil the limits of the U.S. response,” Washington Post, August 30, 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/08/30/us-afghanistan-evacuation-numbers/.
Following the Taliban’s takeover of the Afghan government, on August 17, Baradar flew from Doha to Kandahar, where he will reportedly serve as the leader of the Taliban government.Mychael Schnell, “Taliban leader arrives in Afghanistan,” The Hill, August 17, 2021, https://thehill.com/policy/international/568180-de-facto-taliban-leader-arrives-in-afghanistan?rl=1. On August 23, 2021, CIA Director William Burns met with Baradar in Kabul—the first high level meeting between the Biden administration and the Taliban since the August 15 takeover.Greg Myre, “CIA Chief And Taliban Leader Meet As Taliban Demand Aug. 31 U.S. Withdrawal,” NPR, August 24, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/08/24/1030601056/cia-director-meets-taliban-leader-as-deadline-for-u-s-evacuation-looms.
On September 7, 2021, the Taliban announced the official appointments within their caretaker government. Mullah Muhammad Hassan was named prime minister, and Baradar was named co-deputy prime minister along with Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanafi. The government is exclusively male, with many positions filled with veterans from their hardline movement in the early nineties.Matthieu Aikins and Jim Huylebroek, “Taliban Appoint Stalwarts to Top Government Posts,” New York Times, September 7, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/07/world/asia/taliban-women-protest-kabul-afghanistan.html; Kathy Gannon, “Taliban form all-male Afghan government of old guard members,” Associated Press, September 8, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-pakistan-afghanistan-arrests-islamabad-d50b1b490d27d32eb20cc11b77c12c87.
Shortly after the appointments were made, on September 14, 2021, rumors began to surface that Baradar was allegedly injured following disputes between the Taliban and the Haqqani network—the U.S. designated, and allegedly more radical, branch of the Taliban. Baradar quickly refuted those claims in a television interview on September 15, while also denying any internal disagreements.Tim Lister, “Where are the Taliban's missing leaders? Rumors swirl over fate of two top officials,” CNN, September 14, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/14/asia/taliban-missing-leader-rumors-2021-intl/index.html; Sarah Dean, “Taliban co-founder disputes internal rifts, denies he was injured in any clash,” CNN, September 15, 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/15/asia/afghanistan-taliban-baradar-disputes-rift-intl/index.html.
The U.N. Security Council sanctioned Abdul Ghani Baradar Abdul Ahmad Turk on February 23, 2001.“ABDUL GHANI BARADAR ABDUL AHMAD TURK,” United Nations Security Councill, February 23, 2001, https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1988/materials/summaries/individual/abdul-ghani-baradar-abdul-ahmad-turk.