Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the man tipped to be Afghanistan’s next president, is a co-founder of the Taliban who served in the Islamic movement’s first administration between 1995-2001 before spending years in a Pakistani jail.
On Tuesday Mullah Baradar landed in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement, ending 20 years of exile. He was thronged by well-wishers as he stepped off a Qatari government aircraft and drove off in a convoy.
He is more far more visible than the Taliban’s current supreme leader, Maulawi Hibatullah Akhunzada, who is believed to be in Pakistan and only releases occasional statements.
Born in Uruzgan province in 1968, Mullah Baradar fought with the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets in the 1980s.
After the Russians were driven out in 1989 and the country fell into civil war between rival warlords, Baradar set up a madrassah in Kandahar with his former commander and reputed brother in law, Mohammad Omar.
The Taliban swept to power in 1996 after a series of stunning conquests of provincial capitals. Mullah Baradar was a key architect of those victories.
He played a succession of military and administrative roles in the five-year Taliban government, and by the time it was ousted by the U.S. and its Afghan allies, he was deputy minister of defence.
The CIA tracked him down to Karachi in 2010 and in February of that year persuaded Pakistani ISI to arrest him.
In 2018, however, Washington’s attitude changed and Donald Trump’s Afghan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, asked the Pakistanis to release Baradar so he could lead negotiations in Qatar.
Baradar signed the Doha agreement with the U.S. in February 2020 which paved the way for foreign forces to leave. As part of the deal, the U.S. and Taliban agreed not to fight each other. This was supposed to be followed by power-sharing talks between the Taliban and the Kabul government of Ashraf Ghani.
Last week Baradar made a short statement following the Taliban victim in Kabul: “To all Afghanistan and Muslims, congratulations on this great victory and especially to Kabul citizens and residents. And to all our mujahideen, we were in such a low state that no one was expecting that we would succeed. This victory only happened because of Almighty Allah’s help, such a great victory that there is no example like it in this world. Allah has blessed us with it. For this we are very thankful to Almighty Allah.
“Now we have an even bigger responsibility to serve our people by restoring law and order and to give peaceful and better lives to the citizens of Afghanistan. And insha Allah with the help of Allah we will succeed in this task too and according to Islamic law we will try our best.”