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The Taliban movement has always been led by shadow figures, such as its co-founder, Mullah Omar, or its supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada. While the insurgents have just taken power in Afghanistan, it is on social networks that its political leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, claimed victory.
When Taliban fighters entered the Afghan capital on August 15, a video of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was posted on social media. Looking a little suspicious in front of the camera, in front of the white flag of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, he hailed the victory of his movement.
Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has long been the moderate face of the radical Islamic group, is making his return after twenty years in exile. Behind this face, which has become the public figure of the Taliban, hides a seasoned military commander with strict religious beliefs about how the world should be.
Mullah Baradar to Taliban: “we have reached a victory that wasn’t expected… we should show humility in front of Allah… now it’s time of test – now it’s about how we serve and secure our people, and ensure their future / good life to best of ability ”
– Mujib Mashal (@MujMash) August 15, 2021
From the Soviets to the Americans
Born in 1968 in Uruzgan province, in the south of the country, he grew up in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban. Like many Afghans, his life was transformed by the Soviet invasion in 1979, which made him a mujahedin. It was during this time that he allegedly fought alongside Mullah Omar, who lost an eye during this conflict. The two men co-founded the Taliban movement that emerged in the early 1990s in religious schools in the south of the country and in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. According to a BBC article, they even became brothers-in-law when Abdul Ghani Baradar married Mullah Omar’s sister.
Baradar has been an insurgent his entire adult life, with the exception of the five years the Taliban controlled Afghanistan (1996-2001). He was already an important figure and Minister of Defense when the Americans invaded the country after the attacks of September 11, 2001. His role remained important after the fall of the regime. He was believed to have been the driving force behind numerous attacks until his arrest in 2010 in Karachi, Pakistan, by agents of the Directorate for Interservice Intelligence, the largest and most powerful of Pakistan’s three branches of intelligence. . He was then photographed and had to parade the chains around his wrists to show how seriously the Pakistani authorities took the hunt for Taliban insurgents.
Under pressure, in particular from Washington which was intensifying its efforts to leave Afghanistan, he was released in 2018. Listened to and respected by the various Taliban factions, he was then appointed head of their political office, located in Qatar. It was he who led the negotiations with the Trump administration which culminated on February 29, 2020 in a historic agreement providing for the withdrawal of all foreign soldiers by the 1er May 2021, in exchange for security guarantees and the opening of unprecedented direct negotiations between the insurgents and the authorities in Kabul.
I was proud to visit Doha at this truly historic time for the Afghan people. Grateful to the government of Qatar for their support for these critical negotiations as we strive towards a lasting peace for the people of Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/0gi0R30pMi
– Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 13, 2020
While the first Taliban regime had only been recognized by three countries (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), Abdul Ghani Baradar met with many foreign dignitaries to gain more global recognition. Last month, he also led a delegation to China where he met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi. A trip that is now bearing fruit. Beijing was the first country to express, on August 16, its willingness to maintain “friendly relations” with the Taliban.
Western countries, on the other hand, are more circumspect and ask the radical Islamic movement to respect human rights. They are also worried about the possibility of the Taliban allowing the presence of jihadist groups in the country, as was the case with Al-Qaida before 9/11.
A “code of conduct”
Today, the Taliban want to show a different face. When he was one of the military commanders of the insurgents, Abdul Ghani Baradar was noted for his concern for the support of the Afghan people. In 2009, according to a New York Times article, Abdul Ghani Baradar had ordered his fighters to keep a small book with them explaining how to win the hearts of the villagers.
This “code of conduct”, which includes advice on how to avoid casualties among civilians and advocates limiting suicide attacks, reflects his political mindset. According to him, the Taliban, which had imposed an ultra-rigorous version of Islamic law when they were in power, must now gain the confidence of the population. “Now is the time to assess and prove, now we must show that we can serve our nation and ensure safety and comfort in life,” he said in the video broadcast on social networks after the capture of Kabul on Sunday, calling on his troops to discipline.
On the Twitter accounts which are favorable to them, the Taliban boast of having been warmly welcomed in Kabul or of the fact that young girls returned to school on Monday, as usual. They also ensured that thousands of fighters converge on the capital to ensure its security.
But those words have not swept away the fears of thousands of Afghans. Videos posted on social networks show scenes of total anarchy since August 15, like those hundreds of people running by an American military transport plane which rolls to go to take off position, while some madly try to cling to its sides or its wheels.
This article was adapted from English by Stéphanie Trouillard. The original article can be found here.
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