Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban leader who was released from a Pakistani prison at the request of the United States less than three years ago, now emerges as the undisputed military victor of a 20-year war.
Baradar’s return to power embodies Afghanistan’s inability to escape the bloody chains of its past. The story of his adult life is the story of a country mired in uninterrupted and merciless conflict.
Born in Uruzgan province in 1968, he fought with the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets in the 1980s. After the Afghans drove out first the Russians and then the communist government in 1992 and the country fell into a civil war between Rival warlords, Baradar founded a madrasa in Kandahar with his former commander and alleged brother-in-law, Mohammad Omar. Together, the two mullahs are among the founders of the taliban, a movement led by young people who studied Islam and said they wanted the religious purification of the country and the creation of an emirate.
Fueled by religious fervor, widespread hatred by “warlords” and considerable support from Pakistan’s intelligence services, the Taliban seized power in 1996 after a series of striking captures of provincial capitals. The move stunned the entire world then just as it has in recent weeks. Baradar, the successor of Mullah Omar, considered a very effective strategist, was the architect of those victories.
Baradar held various military and administrative positions in the five years of the Taliban regime. When the Taliban were ousted from power by the United States and its Afghan allies, he was the deputy defense minister.
Released by Trump
During the Taliban’s 20-year exile, Baradar had a reputation as a powerful military leader and a subtle political strategist. Western diplomats believed that she was in the wing of the Quetta Shura – the leadership of the Taliban regrouped in exile – that resisted the control of Pakistan’s intelligence services the most and was more willing to have political contacts with Kabul.
Fear of his military capabilities was greater within the Obama administration than hope for his supposedly more moderate leanings. The CIA tracked him down to Karachi in 2010 and in February of the same year. persuaded Pakistani intelligence services to arrest him.
“Baradar’s capture was instigated above all by his role in the war rather than by the likelihood that he would suddenly sign a peace agreement,” says a government official at the time. “The reality is that Pakistan had him imprisoned for all those years largely because the United States had asked him to.”
In 2018, however, Washington’s attitude changed and Donald Trump’s representative in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, asked the Pakistanis to release Baradar to lead the negotiations in Qatar, sustained by the belief that he would be in favor of a power-sharing agreement. “I had never seen a real justification for believing something like that, but it became a mythical idea,” said the former senior official.
Baradar signed the Doha agreement with the United States in February 2020, which the Trump Administration celebrated as an approach to peace. Now it seems to have been no more than a stepping stone to the triumph of the Taliban.
The non-aggression agreement between the US and the Taliban was supposed to be followed by talks to agree on the sharing of power between the Taliban and the Ashraf Ghani government in Kabul. Those talks made little and faltering progress, and it is now clear that Baradar and the Taliban were just playing for time, waiting for the Americans to leave while they prepared the final offensive. Life has taught Baradar to be patient and confident in the final victory.
Translation by Ignacio Rial-Schies