The Taliban declared the war in Afghanistan over after taking control of the presidential palace in Kabul. President Ashraf Ghani fled, probably to Tajikistan, and western countries are scrambling to evacuate their citizens.
“Today is a great day for the Afghan people and the mujahideen. They have witnessed the fruits of their efforts and their sacrifices for 20 years,” Mohammad Naeem, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office, told Al Jazeera TV.
It took the Taliban just over a week to seize control of Afghanistan, 20 years after they were ousted by the American and allied forces. The insurgents overran the country in the wake of the withdrawal of US troops.
Who are the Taliban (Leadership of Taliban)?
As the Taliban appears to be on the brink of regaining power, the movement’s inner workings and leadership have always been largely shrouded in secrecy. Here is a rundown of what is known about its structure, and other intriguing facts about the insurgents.
Haibatullah Akhundzada (the supreme leader)
Haibatullah Akhundzada was appointed leader of the Taliban in a swift power transition after a US drone strike killed his predecessor, Mullah Mansour Akhtar, in 2016.
Before ascending the movement’s ranks, Akhundzada was a low-profile religious figure. He is widely believed to have been selected to serve more as a spiritual figurehead than a military commander.
After being appointed leader, Akhundzada secured a pledge of loyalty from Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who showered the religious scholar with praise — calling him “the emir of the faithful”.
Akhundzada was tasked with the enormous challenge of unifying a militant movement that briefly fractured during a bitter power struggle following the assassination of his predecessor, and the revelation that the leadership had hid the death of Taliban founder Mullah Omar for years.
The leader’s public profile has been largely limited to the release of annual messages during Islamic holidays.
Mullah Baradar (the founder)
Abdul Ghani Baradar was raised in Kandahar — the birthplace of the Taliban movement.
Like most Afghans, Baradar’s life was forever altered by the Soviet invasion of the country in the late 1970s, transforming him into an insurgent.
He was believed to have fought side-by-side with the Mullah Omar.
The two would go on to found the Taliban movement in the early 1990s amid the chaos and corruption of the civil war that erupted after the Soviet withdrawal.
Following the Taliban’s collapse in 2001, Baradar is believed to have been among a small group of insurgents who approached interim leader Hamid Karzai with a letter outlining a potential deal that would have seen the militants recognize the new administration.
Arrested in Pakistan in 2010, Baradar was kept in custody until pressure from the United States saw him freed in 2018 and relocated to Qatar.
This is where he was appointed head of the Taliban’s political office and oversaw the signing of the withdrawal agreement with the Americans.
Sirajuddin Haqqani (the Haqqani Network)
The son of the famed commander from the anti-Soviet jihad, Jalaluddin Haqqani.
Sirajuddin doubles as both the deputy leader of the Taliban movement while also heading the powerful Haqqani network.
The Haqqani Network is a US-designated terror group that has long been viewed as one of the most dangerous factions fighting Afghan and US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan during the past two decades.
The group is infamous for its use of suicide bombers and is believed to have orchestrated some of the most high-profile attacks in Kabul over the years.
The network has also been accused of assassinating top Afghan officials and holding kidnapped Western citizens for ransom — including US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, released in 2014.
Known for their independence, fighting acumen, and savvy business dealings, the Haqqanis are believed to oversee operations in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, while holding considerable sway over the Taliban’s leadership council.
The son of the Taliban’s founder Mullah Omar. Mullah Yaqoob heads the group’s powerful military commission, which oversees a vast network of field commanders charged with executing the insurgency’s strategic operations in the war.
However, speculation remains rife about Yaqoob’s exact role within the movement, with some analysts arguing that his appointment to the role in 2020 was merely cosmetic.
The rise of Taliban
The Taliban, which means “students” in Pashto language, emerged in 1994 around the city of Kandahar. They were the main factions fighting a civil war after the Soviets left Afghanistan. They went on the draw members from the “mujahideen” who, with the support of the United States, repelled the Soviets back in the 1980s. Much later, they gained sole control over most of Afghanistan, proclaiming a powerful Islamic Emirate in 1996 and staying firmly in power until 2001.
Modus operandi: During their 1996-2001 reign in the country, they enforced sharia law. Women across the country were strictly barred from working, they were confined to their homes unless accompanied by a male guardian outdoors. Public executions and floggings were also a common sight. Western films and books were banned. Cultural artifacts seen as blasphemous were destroyed.
Global recognition: Only four countries, including neighbour Pakistan, formally recognized the Taliban government when it was in power. Other countries around the world, along with the United Nations, instead recognised a different group holding provinces to the north of Kabul as Afghanistan’s government-in-waiting. The US and UN-imposed strict sanctions on the Taliban. Even now, most countries are showing no signs of formally recognition of the group diplomatically.
(inputs from HT)