Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the strong man in Afghanistan’s government and transition from the fall of the Taliban at the end of 2001 to the 2014 elections, will be one of those who will negotiate with the fundamentalist militia the transfer of powers that is carried out out in Kabul these days. It was not long ago that Karzai and Taliban leaders saw each other. In March of this year, in Moscow, at a conference on Afghanistan, together with US, Chinese, Russian and Pakistani representatives, Karzai shared a table with two of the most visible faces of the current Taliban leadership. Three chairs from the former Afghan president were Mullah Abdulghani Baradar and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, both members of the Quetta Shura (or Rahbhari Shura), the main body of leadership of the insurgent group. These are the main leaders and faces of the current leadership of the Taliban:
Abdulghani Baradar. The story of Mullah (religious leader) Abdulghani Baradar, born in the province of Uruzgan in 1968, undoubtedly serves to understand the rise, fall and resurrection of the Taliban. Baradar is one of the founders of this fundamentalist movement born in the late 1980s from among the religious seminaries on the Afghan-Pakistani border. Under the leadership of Mullah Mohamed Omar, the most wanted by the United States along with Osama Bin Laden after 9/11, Baradar held various positions in the Taliban military until the US invasion. Interpol appointed him as deputy defense minister.
After the defeat of the Taliban at the end of 2001, Baradar always maintained a leadership position and a favorable profile for negotiations between the parties. In February 2010, Pakistani security forces detained the Taliban leader in the city of Karachi, a coup celebrated by the US In October 2018, eight and a half years later, Baradar was released. As published by the Pakistani newspaper The News On the day of his release, the prisoner was released thanks to a request from the Government of Qatar, a country that would host the peace negotiations between the Afghan Government and the Taliban.
Baradar is currently the political leader of the Taliban and one of their best-known faces. However, at the top of the Taliban leadership is Maulaui Hibatullah Akhundzada, born in 1961 in Panjwayi. Akhundzada is considered the emir al muminin, that is, the leader or prince of the believers, the highest political, religious and military leader of the Taliban and their faithful. In this way, when the transfer of powers to the fundamentalists is confirmed after President Ashraf Ghani leaves the country, Akhundzada would be the main leader of this kind of Islamic emirate that the armed group wants to establish in Afghanistan.
Less is known about Akhundzada. A veteran of the war against the USSR of the 1980s like most of the Taliban leaders, his role has been more linked to the religious apparatus, leading the Sharia courts, bodies that strictly enforce Islamic law, and Koranic schools in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, on the southern border with Afghanistan. The veteran Mujahideen took over the reins of the Taliban after the death in 2016 in a US attack of Mullah Akhtar Mohamed Mansur, successor to Mullah Omar, who died in 2013 of an illness in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan.
None of the above appear on the US State Department’s Most Wanted list. Yes he does, under a $ 10 million reward for information on his whereabouts, Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani network, an organization considered a terrorist by Washington since 2012 and closely linked to the Taliban. Many of the members of this armed family organization are among the targets of the war against terrorism still being waged by the United States.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, whose age is between 40 and 50, has been leading the network for precisely 20 years. The US intelligence services place her in Waziristan, on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, from where she has attacked Afghan forces and the US-led coalition, blaming her for trying to kill the hitherto Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani.
According to interviews with one of the Taliban spokesmen, Zabihullah Mujahid, Sirajuddin Haqqani would command the eastern part of the country, which borders Pakistan. Along with Baradar and Haqqani, the mulá Mohamed Yaqoob he would complete the trio of lieutenants under the command of Emir Akhundzada in the Taliban organization chart. Yaqoob, in his 30s, is the son of the founder of the Taliban and first emir, Mullah Omar. Educated in Karachi, Yaqoob would be in charge of the military operations of the fundamentalist group.
At that March meeting in Moscow I was Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, born in the province of Logar in 1963, responsible for the political office of the Taliban in Doha (Qatar), although not for the negotiations. Also a veteran of the armed jihad against the Soviets, Stanikzai is one of the most portrayed faces of the armed group’s political apparatus due to his diplomatic activity abroad and for having spoken in English with Western media during the Taliban government (1996-2001 ). Stanikzai then held different positions in the Taliban’s Ministries of Health and Foreign Affairs.
He has been in charge of the Taliban negotiating team in Doha, headquarters of the talks between the armed group and the Afghan government, since last September. Maulaui Abdul Hakim Haqqani, about 53 years old. Former head of Justice in the organization, author of several fatwas (religious edicts) during the last five years, Hakim Haqqani is considered a tough leader, close to Emir Akhundzada and one of the most respected religious references among the Taliban.
Finally, two names are beginning to sound like regular spokespeople for the Taliban, in this effort by the insurgent group to give a kinder face to the international community: Suhail Shaheen, a spokesperson in Doha – who has contacted the BBC to explain in a live program what the Taliban’s plans are in this transition of power – and the representative of the group’s political office, Mohamed Naeem.