Multiple Afghan and international news outlets, citing Taliban sources, reported on Friday that the terrorist group would appoint its leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar the head of its formal Afghan government in the near future.
The Taliban, a jihadist organization that ruled Afghanistan under a violent sharia system between 1996 and 2001, returned to power in August after launching a conquest campaign in response to President Joe Biden breaking an agreement brokered with the group to leave the country. Taliban spokesmen have insisted that they would replace the fallen Afghan government with an “inclusive” Islamic leadership but have yet to announce the appointment of a head of state and council of ministers, among other key bureaucratic positions.
Senior Taliban leader Anas Haqqani, expected to play a role in the new government, told Qatar’s al-Jazeera at the beginning of the week that the jihadist government would “take shape in the following few days.” Taliban spokesmen have refused to offer specifics on how the Taliban would address human rights concerns, the role of women, and freedom of the press before officially announcing the establishment of a government.
Similarly, no foreign government has recognized the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan. Seemingly allied nations like Qatar, China, and Russia have refrained from doing so on the grounds that the Taliban have not appointed any leaders and they are waiting to see a full government form. The Taliban nonetheless wields federal power over Afghanistan and rules under a de facto regime.
The Afghan news agency Tolo News reported on Friday that Baradar – a co-founder of the Taliban and for years head of its political operations in Doha, Qatar – would lead the government, citing sources within the Taliban. It did not specify what title Baradar would receive or what kind of political system, other than an Islamist one, the Taliban would form.
— Pajhwok Afghan News (@pajhwok) September 3, 2021
Tolo named two other senior Taliban officials – Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of the other co-founder Mullah Muhammad Omar, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the deputy head of the Doha “political office” – as rounding out the other major government positions vacant. An anonymous Taliban source also claimed that all sharia affairs would fall to clerical leader Haibatullah Akhunzada.
Granting Baradar the position of most powerful man in Afghanistan belies repeated Taliban assurances that the second Taliban reign will result in fewer human rights atrocities than the first. While not holding Akhunzada’s religious status, Baradar helped found the Taliban and received personal approval in his leadership appointment from the late Mullah Omar, giving him, as the Associated Press put it, “legendary status” among Taliban jihadis. What Baradar lacks is practical experience governing, as he did not play a significant role in the administration of Kabul during the first Taliban reign in power, but he did play a major role in years of negotiations with the United States and other international actors in Qatar that will likely pay handsomely as the Taliban seek to find foreign investors in its regime, particularly in China and the Middle East.
An early sign that the Taliban would trust the job of running the country to Baradar was the revelation in the Washington Post last month that Baradar reportedly held an in-person meeting with American CIA Director William Burns shortly after the fall of Kabul. The report was based on anonymous sources and neither the CIA nor the American government confirmed it.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, regarding the alleged Burns meeting, that Washington was engaged on some level with the Taliban for “operational, tactical” reasons – at the time most likely planning to ensure the safe passage of Americans out of the country prior to the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Biden announced the completion of the withdrawal of American military from the country on August 31. The Biden administration failed to secure the withdrawal of all American citizens and Afghan allies from the country at the time, leaving hundreds stranded. A report this week revealed that as many as 500 employees with the government media agencies Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) remain stuck in the country, potentially to be made into Taliban hostages.
Years before the Kabul takeover, Taliban leaders gave Baradar the high-priority task of negotiating with China, which the jihadist group has now branded its most critical ally. Baradar led a delegation to Beijing in 2019, reportedly to discuss peace talks with the now-defunct former Afghan government. China borders Afghanistan and is engaging in a genocide of Muslim ethnic minorities on the other side of its border with the newly minted “Islamic Emirate,” but the Taliban have steadfastly refused to criticize the communist country for its actions.
Baradar is believed to have returned from Qatar to Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban’s return to power and is now, according to Tolo News, reported to be in Kabul, along with all other “top leaders.”