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Quiet Taliban deal maker plays key to Afghan future

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will be the deputy prime minister in the Taliban government.

He co-founded the Taliban, helped rebuild it during a two-decade war with the US, and then struck a deal to pull out American troops. Now the work of Mulla Abdul Ghani Baradar is becoming more difficult.

Baradar, named as deputy prime minister in the Taliban government unveiled on Tuesday, is still the most famous figure to the outside world in the new administration. The Taliban’s supreme commander, Haibatullah Akhundzada, has not been seen in public since becoming the group’s leader in 2016 and little is known about the new prime minister, Mullah Mohammad Hassan.

In order to gain international aid and access to the central bank’s billions in wealth, Baradar must convince world leaders that it is a separate Taliban, which is trying to ban girls in school and stoning women to death. There is a more liberal version of the group notorious for. 1990s. US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that major countries around the world are “all trying to figure out what they do now.”

“At all times, Baradar will be a target of Taliban hardliners, who see no reason to change the core beliefs of their movement to please unbelievers,” said Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Washington.

A soft-spoken man in his 50s with a gray beard, Baradar has proven to be a skilled diplomat, helping negotiate with the US during the Trump administration, culminating in a call from US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to formalize the US withdrawal. to be done.

The Taliban has unveiled a new cabinet that includes the leader of a US-designated terrorist organization to mark the group’s return to power after a 20-year war with the US.

In fact, his role as a potential mediator was seen to be so important that the Trump administration pressured Pakistan to free him in 2018 after nearly a decade in prison.

“As a negotiator, I think he remains respected,” said Carter Malkasian, who accompanied Baradar several times while serving as a special assistant to the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford for Strategy. They were sitting in a round of conversation. “He has the ability to instill confidence.”

The details of Baradar’s early life are unclear. According to Interpol, he was born in 1968 to an influential Pashtun tribe in a village in Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan.

“He comes from the villages much more as an Afghan leader, he has the same gestures and demeanor,” said Malkasian, author of “The American War in Afghanistan: A History.” “He listens to you when you talk, he’s welcoming and ready to shake hands. He’s not standoffish, but he’s also calm and not boisterous. It’s a quiet kind of charisma.”

By the time Baradar was five, Afghanistan’s brief “Golden Age” had given way to a period of coups, assassinations and purges, which culminated in the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979. As a teenager, he was attracted to the US-backed Mujahideen. Guerrilla movement, whose aim was to free the country from Soviet influence.

During these years Baradar met the one-eyed cleric, Mullah Mohammad Omar, with whom he later learned of the Taliban. The Soviet withdrawal in 1989 opened the door for the Taliban to seize power in 1996, but the group’s harshness towards women, girls and Afghan minorities left it diplomatically barring three governments: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Emirates.

Baradar served in roles including deputy defense minister, even as Afghanistan became a haven for international terrorists – most prominently Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader behind the September 11 terrorist attacks.

When US-backed forces rapidly advanced across the country in late 2001, Baradar and the rest of the Taliban leadership fled to Pakistan, where they once again rebelled against a single regime. Slowly but methodically, Baradar undertook to rebuild the organization.

“Baradar was essentially a re-founder of the Taliban from 2002-3,” said Antonio Giustozzi, author of “The Taliban at War: 2001-2018” and a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London. It was Baradar who “transformed the Taliban from a charismatic-led movement, under an autocratic leader like Omar” to a collegial movement, in which Baradar was always first among equals, he said.

Under pressure when the Obama administration began its “surge” of US troops, Baradar attempted to negotiate with Afghan President Hamid Karzai—an effort that irked Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agencies, who sought to negotiate in their own interests. Didn’t see the deal. He was arrested in 2010.

Amar Sinha, India’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, said Baradar’s history of brokering peace deals and reconciliation shows that he has “nationalist sentiments” that could upset the Taliban’s boosters in Pakistan. Such trends suggest that Baradar is most interested in an “Afghanistan first” approach to the world, which does not always coincide with other countries, he said.

out of jail

Baradar did not re-emerge on the Afghan political scene until 2018, this time with the help of the US. US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, accused of fulfilling President Donald Trump’s promise to pull US troops out of the country, felt talks in Doha had reached an impasse.

At the request of the US, Baradar was released from prison in October 2018 and named the head of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar the following January. There was a marked change in the tone of his first meeting with America.

According to a person familiar with the talks, Baradar quickly established the respect of the US team while maintaining the Taliban’s negotiating stance. The person, who narrated the closed-door talks on condition of anonymity, said Baradar believed he would not have been sitting at the table without US efforts to secure his release. For their part, the Americans felt they had a mediator who seemed more straightforward than other Taliban leaders.

Now back in political power, Baradar will need to balance the diverse interests of Afghanistan’s powerful neighbors and regional players, including Iran, India, China and Pakistan, a country that played both the role of a protector and captive of the exiled rebels. .

Baradar has shown himself to be able to navigate the complex politics in War and Peace, but this time the challenges are different, and he will lack the time to prevent Afghanistan from falling into a deep vortex of conflict and crisis.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned, “People are losing access to basic goods and services every day, as US troops complete their withdrawal.” “A human catastrophe looms.”

For their part, the US and most other countries say the Taliban-led government will be judged not only by its actions towards women and girls, but also by the thousands of Afghans who retreated in haste last month.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said on Friday: “Finally, the hope is to see a government that delivers on the promises made by the Taliban.”

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