by Michael Hughes
April 9, 2022
Abdul Ghani Baradar (عبدالغني برادر), also known as Mullah Baradar, is a co-founder of the Taliban who has served as acting first deputy prime minister of the Afghan state since the movement seized Kabul in August of 2021. He played a lead role in negotiating the withdrawal agreement with U.S. officials in Doha which brought an end to the 20-year presence of foreign forces on Afghan soil. He has been characterized as wearing a wide-range of hats and faces over the years, tops amongst them being capable military commander, “cunning” tribal consensus-builder, and “sophisticated” diplomat.
Baradar, a Zirak Durrani Pashtun, was born in the Yatimak village of Deh Rawood District in Uruzgan Province. According to an image of his passport circulating on Twitter, Baradar was born in 1963. However, Interpol has his year of birth recorded as 1968.
Personality-wise he has been characterized as an “old-fashioned Pashtun tribal head” who builds consensus by sitting and talking to people, and did so with fellow Taliban members at all levels, according to a 2009 Newsweek article. Citing interviews with former officials and colleagues, the same piece claimed Baradar exuded a relaxed and deferential manner.
Baradar was perceived as more open and patient than other Taliban leaders in addition to possessing better problem-solving skills. He reportedly impressed Western observers as exhibiting adept diplomatic and political acumen and seemed less mercurial compared to his cohorts, but has also been described as “cunning.”
Like many of the older members of the Taliban, he fought in the war against the Soviets during the 1980s. In 1994, Baradar and four others, including Mullah Omar, founded the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. He was close to Omar who was the one who bestowed him the nickname Baradar, which means “brother.” An Afghan government official around 2010 told BBC that Baradar’s wife is Mullah Omar’s sister.
During the Taliban’s reign (1996-2001) he had several different titles, including deputy defense minister and commander, and served as governor of both Herat and Nimruz provinces. He also helped operate a madrassa in Maiwand, Kandahar Province.
As the Taliban were fleeing Afghanistan in November of 2001, Baradar and several other senior Taliban officials were captured by U.S.-aligned Afghan militants. However, Pakistani intelligence intervened to free them, according to The New York Times, citing a senior official of the Northern Alliance. Baradar then reportedly rode off into the mountains on a motorcycle with Mullah Omar.
Baradar rose to a leadership position within the Quetta Shura based in Pakistan, where he helped direct the insurgency against the Karzai government. As Omar secluded, Baradar was often portrayed in the press as the group’s de facto leader. He was heavily involved in military strategy and managed funding. While Omar remained the group’s spiritual leader, Baradar took operational control. He was even accused by Afghan officials of launching some of the deadliest attacks against government forces.
In a 2009 exchange with Newsweek, just as the Obama administration launched the “surge,” in Afghanistan, Baradar said he wanted to inflict “maximum losses” on American troops.
However, Western officials would eventually come to see him as one of the key personalities willing to engage in talks to secure a negotiated settlement to the conflict and had even been involved with some informal sessions with Kabul. At the same time, he was also among those who refused to be a puppet to Pakistan’s spy agency. And it is likely for both these reasons that he found himself in a Pakistani jail from 2010-2018.
In February of 2010, Baradar was captured during a covert joint operation by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence forces in Karachi. Yet, the Americans and the Pakistanis would both change their tunes about Baradar when the Black Swan administration of Donald J. Trump took over Washington.
He was eventually released by the Pakistanis after U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad convinced Islamabad that Baradar could play a significant role in the Afghan peace process. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly called Baradar “a very sophisticated player” in a meeting with then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Baradar served as one of three deputies to the Taliban supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, alongside Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mohammad Yaqoob. In January 2019, about three months after his release from prison in Pakistan, Baradar became the chief of the Taliban’s political office in Doha.
In January 2020, Baradar, prophetically, told PBS that “the war will end when the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan.”
“The Americans made a huge mistake by coming to Afghanistan and starting this war,” Baradar told said in the same interview. “Because their main goal was just one person – Osama bin Laden – and he is now gone… We are obliged, as it is our country, to defend it with our lives.”
In February 2020, Baradar signed the Doha Agreement that called for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban counterterrorism assurances and promises to engage in intra-Afghan talks.
A few days later the Taliban chief negotiator received a call from Trump, who told him, “you guys are tough fighters,” The New Yorker reported citing U.S. officials. Trump asked Baradar if the Taliban needed anything, and he pressed the U.S. president on the prisoner release. Trump told Pompeo to get the message to Kabul.
After the Taliban ousted the Ghani government, rumors swirled that Baradar would become the president of Afghanistan, but this has yet to materialize.
About a month after the fall of Kabul, Baradar would find himself listed by Time magazine as among the 100 most influential people of the year.
“Abdul Ghani Baradar”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 4 Nov. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Mullah-Abdul-Ghani-Baradar [accessed 4/9/22].
Boghani, Priyanka. “’The War Will End When the U.S. Withdraws,’ Says Taliban’s Chief Negotiator.” PBS, 1/17/2020. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/exclusive-afghanistan-war-end-when-u-s-withdraws-says-taliban-peace-talk-negotiator/ [accessed 4/9/22].
Coll, Steve and Adam Entous. “The Secret History of the U.S. Diplomatic Failure in Afghanistan.” The New Yorker, 12/10/21. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/12/20/the-secret-history-of-the-us-diplomatic-failure-in-afghanistan [accessed 4/9/22].
Gustozzi, Antonio. Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2008.
Moreau, Ron. “Meet the Taliban’s New Chief.” Newsweek, 7/24/09. https://www.newsweek.com/meet-talibans-new-chief-81727 [accessed 4/9/22].
“Profile: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.” BBC, 09/21/13. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-20582286 [accessed 4/9/22].
Taddonio, Patrice. “’I Might Die There’: Journalist Najibullah Quraishi on Going Face-to-Face with ISIS and the Taliban in Afghanistan.” PBS, 1/21/20. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/face-to-face-with-isis-and-the-taliban-in-afghanistan/ [accessed 4/9/22].