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NEW DELHI: As the Taliban appear set to announce Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar Akhund, the group’s public face for the past three years as their leader, India is hoping his recent experience of being chief international negotiator with the US and head of outreach with other major powers will influence his approach to policies that affect India.
According to reports, Sher Mohammed Stanekzai as well as Sirajuddin Haqqani may also be given positions of power in the new government while Baradar seems set for a leading role. Born in 1968 in Uruzgan province, Baradar is a Durrani Pashtun from the Popalzai tribe, sharing tribal loyalties with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai. As one of the few leaders close to Mullah Omar, Baradar served as the Taliban’s deputy defence minister during the 1996-2001 regime.
After the US invasion of 2001, Baradar fled to Pakistan, where he organised the military resistance to US occupation in Afghanistan, becoming the head of the Rahbari Shura, in charge of operational decisions. But in 2010, Pakistan arrested him and threw him in jail for the next eight years, because Islamabad suspected him of stitching a deal with Karzai and the US. According to reports, Baradar and other Taliban leaders like Mullah Abdul Rauf Aliza and Mullah Ahmed Jan Akhundzada, were reported to belong to more moderate forces within the Taliban.
From 2018, when the US persuaded Pakistan to let him go and began negotiations for a peace agreement, Baradar has been at the forefront of negotiations, but this time with Pakistani blessing. India will also hope he would not have forgotten just how his hosts had turned on him and consider the need to balance equations.
As leader of the 2021-version of the Taliban government, will Baradar preside over “independent” decision making or will he have to continue looking over his shoulder towards Islamabad is not quite clear. The Taliban have been playing all sides in their statements lately — juxtaposing a moderate approach with adherence to the Sharia; reaching out to India while promising to continue to take up any “Muslim” cause including Kashmir, while also saying this would not involve support to violence.

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