Abdul Ghani Baradar is a Taliban leader who is considered one of the four persons who founded the Taliban in Afghanistan or The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, an Islamic state governed by the Taliban, an Islamist militant group. He is best known for being the deputy of Mullah Mohammed Omar who led the Taliban in 1996. Since his capture by a team of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers in February 2010, and his release on 24 October 2018, Baradar has played a more prominent role within the Afghan Taliban movement. In August 2021, he made headlines when the Taliban seized Kabul and President Palace, and Baradar’s name surfaced as the most probable head of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was born in 1968 (age 53 years; as of 2021) in the Weetmak village of Deh Rahwod District in Uruzgan Province of Afghanistan. He grew up in Kandahar, which is also the birthplace of the Taliban movement.
Height (approx.): 5′ 8″
Eye Colour: Black
Hair Colour: Salt & Pepper
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar comes from a Durrani Pashtun of the Popalzai tribe. Reportedly, Baradar and Mullah Mohammed Omar are brothers-in-law via marriage to two sisters.
Turning into an Insurgent
While growing up in Kandhar, an Afghan city that is considered to be the epicenter of the Taliban movement, he witnessed a variety of dramatic events taking place in the country. The Soviet invasion of the country in the late 1970s permanently altered Baradar’s life, and he became an insurgent. In the 1980s, Baradar fought in the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets.
Baradar and Omar – Lifelong Friends
Reportedly, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar and Mullah Mohammed Omar became close friends when they were teenagers. They fought side by side against the Soviets in the 1980s. Omar is known for his skill in knocking out Russian tanks with rocket-propelled grenades despite losing an eye in the fighting. As the war progressed, they travelled to Maiwand, Omar’s home district, where Baradar served in a mujahedeen unit under Omar’s command. It is believed that they married two sisters along the way; however, according to Zaeef, who fought beside them in Maiwand, they are not related by marriage. Zaeef says,
Their friendship is more important than any family relation.”
Upon the Soviet withdrawal from Kabul and the collapse of the Kremlin’s puppet regime, Omar and Baradar sought to settle in Maiwand and set up their own madrassa. The local warlords, however, who had taken to kidnapping and raping village girls and boys, disgusted them. Recruiting Baradar as his first recruit, Omar led a revolt against them with a force of 30 men and half that many rifles. Over time, the movement grew to control the vast majority of Afghanistan. After serving as Mullah Omar’s right-hand man in Kandahar, Baradar became Omar’s corps commander for western Afghanistan, and later, he was sent to Kabul as the garrison commander, where he led the fight against mujahedin commanders in the north. In the decades that followed, Baradar rose to become Mullah Omar’s most trusted and most important military commander. Baradar stood by Omar at the very end. In November 2001, as US bombs pounded Kandahar, Mullah Baradar grabbed a motorcycle and drove his friend Omar in the mountains to safety. Reportedly, Mullah Omar died of tuberculosis in a Karachi-area hospital in 2013. The Afghan government announced publicly on 29 July 2015 that Mohammed Omar had died in 2013.
Baradar and Dadullah – Bloodthirsty Rivals
Mullah Dadullah Akhund is considered the bloodthirsty rival of Baradar within the Taliban movement who was killed in May 2007 in a U.S.-led commando raid. Since the 1990s, Baradar and Dadullah were rivals to each other.
After the U.S. invasion, when the surviving Taliban fled to Pakistan, their rivalry came to a head. Since Mullah Omar had already gone into hiding, Dadullah turned to Baradar, the group’s bursar, to raise funds for regrouping. According to several Taliban sources, Baradar said it was too soon to start a guerrilla campaign and suggested Dadullah study in a Karachi madrassa for a few months, but Dadullah turned down the advice and build a force that spread the insurgency as far as Kandahar and Helmand. By 2006, Dadullah had become the most successful and feared commander of the Taliban. Following this, many insurgents who were nominally serving under Baradar started inclining toward Dadullah for leadership and funding. At his Waziristan base camp, Dadullah started giving press interviews where he would often release videos of himself training suicide bombers, executing suspected spies, and publicly meeting with his Qaeda allies. According to several Taliban sources, when Baradar commanded Dadullah to calm down, Dadullah insisted,
Let me do what I want. I’ll arm all of Afghanistan.”
After the U.S. raid that killed Dadullah, the governor of Kandahar province displayed Dadullah’s bullet-riddled corpse like a trophy.
Taliban Rule (1996-2001)
Taliban forces surged to power in 1996 after a series of surprising conquests of provincial capitals that were propelled by religious fervor, widespread warlord hatred, and significant aid from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI). Baradar was considered a key architect of those victories. In the five-year Taliban regime, Baradar held a series of military and administrative positions, and by the time it was overthrown by the US and its allies, he was Deputy Minister of Defence. Some sources also claim that during the Taliban’s rule, he was governor of Herat and Nimruz provinces and/or the Corps Commander for western Afghanistan. An unclassified source of the U.S. State Department also lists Baradar as the former Deputy Chief of Army Staff and Commander of Central Army Corps, Kabul.
US Invasion of Afghanistan
U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks and deposed the Taliban with the aid of Afghan forces. According to sources, Baradar fought against the US-backed Northern Alliance. One story claims that Baradar and other Taliban figures were captured by the US-backed Afghan forces in November 2001, but their release was secured by Pakistani intelligence. According to Dutch journalist Bette Dam, Hamid Karzai’s life was actually saved by Baradar when Karzai went to Afghanistan to build anti-Taliban forces. After Hamid Karzai became the interim leader and then President of the newly formed Afghan government, many of Baradar’s fellow Taliban commanders were killed over the years. Eventually, Baradar became de facto head of the Taliban, directing the insurgency from Pakistan, after he rose to the top of Quetta Shura.
Peace Offer to Hamid Karzai
According to Maulvi Arsala Rahmani, a former Taliban cabinet minister, back in 2004, Baradar made a peace offer to the then President Hamid Karzai through a Taliban delegation, and he even offered to for their travel expenses to Kabul. Although that outreach failed, later, two Taliban operatives sent separate peace letters to Qayyum Karzai, the Afghan president’s brother, apparently with Baradar’s approval; however, the initiatives were rescinded quickly.
A Moderate Face of the Taliban
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is often projected as a moderate face of the Taliban by the media. From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban ruled one of the most repressive regimes in history. Public executions, stonings, strict interpretations of Sharia, or Islamic religious law, the prohibition of working for a woman and not allowing her to attend school were common. If a woman wanted to leave her home, she had to cover her face and be accompanied by a male relative, and it was forbidden for men to trim their beards. According to sources, under the leadership of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, attempts have been made to present a more moderate face of the Taliban. In one such move in August 2021, after capturing the capital, the Islamic Emirate in Kabul announced that all those who once worked for and helped the invading forces (Western troops), or are now serving in the corrupt administration of the capital, its doors are open and it is giving them amnesty. It has consistently been described that Baradar is more patient, more open, and more consultative than Omar. According to the Taliban operatives, unlike other Taliban leaders, Baradar prefers to hear different viewpoints rather than act based on hearsay, emotions, or strict ideology. According to a commander from Zabul province,
Baradar doesn’t issue orders without understanding and investigating the problem. He is patient and listens to you until the end. He doesn’t get angry or lose his temper.”
Mullah Hamdullah, a senior Taliban intelligence operative from Ghazni province, says,
He’s not an extremist like some commanders. If there were ever to be negotiations, Baradar would be the best man to talk to.”
Arrest, Imprisonment, and Release
An early morning raid near Karachi on 8 February 2010 led to Baradar’s arrest. U.S. officials termed his arrest as a “turning point” in the struggle with the Taliban; however, it was only after a week that Pakistan confirmed the arrest. The Obama administration was more concerned with his military expertise than with his supposedly moderate views. Reportedly, the CIA tracked him down to Karachi and persuaded ISI to arrest him. According to a former US official,
The capture of Baradar was predominantly instigated because of his role in the war rather than because of the likelihood that he was going to suddenly make peace.”
However, the attitude of Washington changed in 2018, when Trump’s Afghan envoy requested Pakistan for Baradar’s release for the purposes of leading negotiations in Qatar, believing that he would settle for a power-sharing arrangement.
The Trump administration hailed the Doha agreement that Baradar signed with the US in February of 2020 as a peace breakthrough.
When it comes to his working style, Baradar is like an old-fashioned Pashtun tribal chief. Baradar sits down with not only his political officers and military officers but also low-ranking commanders and tribal elders for private discussions.
Whether dealing with local sheiks or the Taliban’s political elite, the Quetta Shura, he displays a relaxed, tradition-bound, perhaps even deferential attitude. When attending meetings, Baradar even frequently takes notes and refers to Mullah Omar and his pronouncements. According to some Taliban sources, when Baradar meets with his military council, he adopts a more stern, more martial air, but even during those sessions, he tries to elicit opinions and to win consensus from everyone. The Taliban sources also claim that Baradar often drives himself into local issues.
The Capture of Kabul in August 2021
On 15 August 2021, the Taliban militants captured Kabul and overthrew the government of Ashraf Ghani following which Baradar was claimed the most probable candidate to become the president of Afghanistan by the media. On 17 August 2021, Baradar announced his arrival at Kandahar from Qatar, making his return to Afghanistan after 20 years; in 2001, he was ousted from Afghanistan.
- His full name is Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund.
- He was nicknamed ‘Baradar’ by Mullah Mohammed Omar, an Afghan mujahid commander who led the Taliban and founded the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 1996.
- Baradar belongs to the same Pashtun tribe as Hamid Karzai, former President of Afghanistan.
- Baradar has strong roots among the Popalzai, Afghanistan’s largest and most influential Pashtun tribe, and it is believed that in the event of serious peace talks, he has the potential to bring a number of tribal leaders onboard.
- After Haibatullah Akhundzada, he is the second-highest-ranking Taliban leader; Habibatullah Akhundzada is the Taliban’s overall leader, but Baradar is its political head and its most popular public face.
- The US officials often describe him as a cunning, little-known figure, who may be more dangerous than Mullah Mohammed Omar ever was.
- Bardar is considered to be the most familiar Taliban commander to the land and the people of Afghanistan than any other person.
- Reportedly, Baradar has no fixed office or residence.
- It is believed that Mullah Baradar daily works for more than 18 hours, and he never sleeps twice in the same place.
- Baradar is also believed to use mobile phones, changing SIM cards frequently.
- When it comes to travelling, Baradar keeps a low profile as he prefers travelling in a small car driven by a close aide. The chauffeur carries with him a supply of Baradar’s personal stationery with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan logo, the logo of Baradar’s defunct Taliban regime.
- Baradar is a frequent visitor to Karachi in Pakistan; however, where the Taliban maintains a widespread network of operatives and businesses.
- Toward the end of 2007, he instructed Taliban forces to disrupt the flow of supply convoys to the United States and NATO military bases and to push nearer to the cities, especially Kabul. His success dismayed the military leadership of the United States.
- Although Baradar is considered the moderate face of the Taliban, he is equally ruthless, and most of his rivals have met with suspicious ends.