Zabiullah Mujahid is a senior Taliban official who previously served as the spokesman of the Taliban. Mujahid reported on Taliban activity in central, eastern, and northern Afghanistan.TALIBAN PROPAGANDA: WINNING THE WAR OF WORDS?, International Crisis Group, Asia Report No 158, July 24, 2008, http://www.genocidewatch.org/images/Afghanistan_08_07_24_Taliban_Propaganda_Winning_the_War_of_Words.pdf. Following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, on September 7, it was announced that Mujahid will serve as the deputy minister of information and broadcasting of the Taliban’s caretaker government in Afghanistan.“Taliban forms 33-member cabinet in Afghanistan: Full list,” Hindustan Times, September 8, 2021, https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/taliban-forms-33-member-cabinet-in-afghanistan-full-list-101631066722518.html.
While serving as spokesman of the Taliban, Mujahid regularly spoke to national and foreign journalists via SMS and telephone and frequently posted on Twitter, where he has over 30,000 followers. Mujahid tweets in both English and Pashto and is often quoted by major news organizations.“Taliban announce surprise talks with US in Pakistani capital,” Al Jazeera, February 13, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/taliban-announce-surprise-talks-pakistan-capital-190213174437142.html; Kathy Gannon, “Taliban name negotiating team ahead of new talks with US,” January 24, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/39bc926d2ae148d4b33023a59f3babfe. In a series of interviews with the New York Times, Mujahid claimed to hold a master’s degree in religious studies and have served in a low-level position in the Taliban’s Culture and Information Department before the U.S.-led intervention.Rod Nordland, “One Voice or Many for the Taliban, but Pegged to a Single Name,” New York Times, June 14, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/world/asia/15zabiullah.html.
Mujahid reportedly succeeded Muhammad Hanif in January 2007 after Hanif was arrested by NATO forces in Afghanistan.“Taliban spokesman arrested,” Al Jazeera, January 19, 2007, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia/2007/01/200852512617616290.html. While Afghan intelligence officials claim that Mujahid is a Pakistani man named Hajji Ismail, U.S. intelligence officials claim he is actually a persona run by a team of Taliban members.Rod Nordland, “One Voice or Many for the Taliban, but Pegged to a Single Name,” New York Times, June 14, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/15/world/asia/15zabiullah.html. The U.S. claim is supported by the fact that journalists report that Mujahid responds to their inquiries at all of times of the day.TALIBAN PROPAGANDA: WINNING THE WAR OF WORDS?, International Crisis Group, Asia Report No 158, July 24, 2008, http://www.genocidewatch.org/images/Afghanistan_08_07_24_Taliban_Propaganda_Winning_the_War_of_Words.pdf.
The Taliban signed the Doha peace agreement with the U.S. government 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/. At an August 17 news conference in Kabul, Mujahid made his first-ever public appearance.Ahmad Seir, Rahim Faiez, Kathy Gannon and Joseph Krauss, “Taliban vow to respect women, despite history of oppression,” Associated Press, August 17, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-taliban-kabul-1d4b052ccef113adc8dc94f965ff23c7. Mujahid claimed that the Taliban 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 U.S. remains committed to full withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31, 2021. However, the evacuation of American citizens, U.S. personnel, and highly vulnerable Afghans has been chaotic. As of August 25, over 70,000 people have been evacuated with many more still at Kabul airport. The Taliban have claimed “there would be consequences” if the U.S. does not abide to the August 31st deadline.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.
On August 24, 2021, Mujahid told a news conference that the U.S. must stick to its deadline of full withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31, after which the Taliban “won’t let Afghans be taken out” on evacuation flights. Although Mujahid has reassured Afghans that the Taliban will bring peace and security to the country, reports on the ground have contradicted these claims as there have been accounts of reprisal killings and restrictions on the rights of women.Jonathan Lemire, Robert Burns and Rahim Faiez, “Biden holds to Kabul Aug 31. Deadline despite criticism,” Associated Press, August 24, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/united-nations-taliban-a0f7cfd98704e6c2fca340324699a129.
On September 7, 2021, the Taliban announced the official appointments within their caretaker government. Mujahid was named deputy minister of information and broadcasting. 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; “Taliban forms 33-member cabinet in Afghanistan: Full list,” Hindustan Times, September 8, 2021, https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/taliban-forms-33-member-cabinet-in-afghanistan-full-list-101631066722518.html.