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Mullah Baradar: The Taliban's Most Public Face

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar at peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha in July.

Abdul Ghani Baradar, known as Mullah Baradar, is a co-founder of the Taliban and senior leader of the militant Islamist group who is expected to hold a top role in governing Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban's takeover of the country.

Baradar -- the most public face of the Taliban -- was also the insurgent group's representative who signed the landmark February 2020 Doha agreement with the United States that aimed to end the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

Born in 1968 in Uruzgan Province, Baradar is a Durrani Pashtun from the Popalzai tribe. He also served as the Taliban's deputy defense minister.

Baradar fled to Pakistan after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States that led to the group's ouster.

Baradar spent eight years in jail in Pakistan after being reportedly arrested in Karachi in 2010 in an operation by U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agents. He was released following a request by U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to play a role in the peace talks due to his authority and his reputation for being able to negotiate.

But while the 2020 deal with the United States ended America's longest war, it also paved the way for the Taliban's triumphant return to Kabul on August 15 after it seized much of the country within a week as Afghan forces melted away.

'A Very Calm Person'

Baradar, who was reported to be on his way to Kabul on August 15 for the first time in nearly two decades, could play a senior role in Afghanistan's future administration.

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman and negotiator, told the Associated Press on August 16 that the militants would hold talks in the coming days aimed at forming an "open, inclusive Islamic government."

Baradar, who serves as the head of the Taliban's political bureau, is a powerful figure who is respected within the group for his military as well as negotiating skills.

In a brief video statement on August 15, Baradar said the group's victory was unexpectedly swift, adding that the real test would begin now with serving the people and resolving their problems.

Seated with a group of men, Mullah Baradar (center of bottom row) makes a video statement from an unidentified location that was released on August 16.
Seated with a group of men, Mullah Baradar (center of bottom row) makes a video statement from an unidentified location that was released on August 16.

Journalist Sami Yousaifzai has covered the Taliban for many years and has met with Baradar.

"Baradar is a very calm person, I met him three or four times, he's very diplomatic, he only speaks to the point. Even before his capture he was known as a figure silently doing a lot of thinking [for the Taliban]. He has a lot of respect within the Taliban," Yousafzai told RFE/RL.

"I think he has ambitions to become leader and he's the one who struck a deal with the Americans very successfully," he added. "As much as I've heard from the Taliban, he also has a desire to be in a senior role in the future."

Working In The Shadows

Baradar, who became second-in-command after the death of elusive Taliban leader Mullah Omar in 2013, had reportedly worked in the shadows for years, strategizing the bloody Taliban insurgency and appointing the group's military commanders.

During his detention in Pakistan he was reported to have provided the United States with "useful" information about the inner workings of the militant group.

Baradar is from the same tribe as former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has stayed in Kabul and has said he is working "to solve the issue of Afghanistan with the Taliban leadership peacefully."

Baradar, who fought the Soviets in the 1980s, held several posts under the brutal Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 during which women were stripped of basic rights, including being banned from studying and working and having restricted access to medical care.

The group has in recent weeks attempted to project a more moderate image while many -- including scores of Afghans fleeing their country and those who have lived in recent years in areas controlled by the Taliban -- remain unconvinced.

In a 2009 interview with Newsweek, Baradar said the group was determined to fight until the expulsion of U.S. troops from the country.

"The history of Afghanistan shows that Afghans never get tired of struggling until they have freed their country. We shall continue our jihad till the expulsion of our enemy from our land," he said.

In March 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump held a 35-minute phone conversation with the Taliban political leader that Trump described as "very good."

In November, Baradar met with then U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Doha.

He was also involved in recent days in failed talks with the administration of President Ashraf Ghani, who fled Afghanistan on August 15.