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Meet the new senior Taliban leaders of Afghanistan

Written By | Aug 16, 2021
Taliban, Afghanistan

By Based on Taliban flag (Flag of Afghanistan 1997-2001) at FOTW (instead of direct copy of text from Saudi Arabian flag). – The text is the Shahadah; compare Image:Flag of Jihad.svg, Image:Hamas flag2.png, Image:Flag of Saudi Arabia.svg, Public Domain,

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN: As the Taliban humiliates the United States and takes control in Kabul it is important to know who the senior leadership of the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will be. Here are some of the key figures of the Taliban upper echelon who will be vying for control of Afghanistan in the coming months.

As the smoke clears it appears the son of Mullah Omar and the heir apparent to the Haqqani network will emerge as the two leading figures in a post-American era Taliban-led government.

Al-Jazeera reporting:

Haibatullah Akhunzada

Known as the “Leader of the Faithful”. This Islamic legal scholar is the Taliban’s supreme leader. He holds final authority over the group’s political, religious, and military affairs.

Akhunzada is believed to be aged about 60

Akhunzada took over when his predecessor, Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a US drone attack near the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2016.

For 15 years, until his sudden disappearance in May 2016, Akhunzada taught and preached at a mosque in Kuchlak, a town in southwestern Pakistan, associates and students have told Reuters news agency.

He is believed to be aged about 60 and his whereabouts are unknown.

Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob

The son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, Yaqoob oversees the group’s military operations and local media reports have said he is inside Afghanistan. He was proposed as the overall leader of the movement during various succession tussles.

But he put forward Akhunzada in 2016 because he felt he lacked battlefield experience and was too young, according to a Taliban commander at the meeting where Mansour’s successor was chosen.

Yaqoob is believed to be in his early 30s.

Sirajuddin Haqqani

The son of prominent mujahideen commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, Sirajuddin leads the Haqqani Network, a loosely organized group that oversees the Taliban’s financial and military assets across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The Haqqanis are believed by some experts to have introduced suicide bombing to Afghanistan and have been blamed for several high-profile attacks in Afghanistan, including a raid on Kabul’s top hotel, an assassination attempt on then-President Hamid Karzai, and a suicide attack on the Indian embassy.

Haqqani is believed to be in his late 40s or early 50s. His whereabouts are unknown.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar

One of the co-founders of the Taliban, Baradar now heads the political office of the Taliban and is part of the group’s negotiating team in Doha to try and thrash out a political deal that could pave the way for a ceasefire and more lasting peace in Afghanistan.

The process has failed to make significant headway in recent months.

Baradar heads the political office of the Taliban in Doha, Qatar [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Baradar, reported to have been one of Mullah Omar’s most trusted commanders, was captured in 2010 by security forces in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi and released in 2018.

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai

A former deputy minister in the Taliban’s government before its removal, Stanikzai has lived in Doha for nearly a decade and became the head of the group’s political office there in 2015.

He has taken part in negotiations with the Afghan government and has represented the Taliban on diplomatic trips to several countries.

Abdul Hakim Haqqani

He is head of the Taliban’s negotiating team. The Taliban’s former shadow chief justice heads its powerful council of religious scholars. He is widely believed to be the person Akhunzada trusts most.

But power frequently flows to the field commander on the ground. In Kabul.

It should be noted that among the leadership of the Taliban are some of the Guantanamo prisoners released by President Obama, including Mullah Baradar. These Guantanamo graduates include the man who sat in ousted President Ashraf  Ghani’s chair in the Presidential palace in Kabul today.

As the Associated Press reported  times in October 2018:

“Five members of the Afghan Taliban who were freed from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for captured American Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has joined the insurgent group’s political office in Qatar, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Tuesday.

In an unexpected development, Pakistan also bowed to a long-standing Afghan Taliban demand that it release its senior leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who had been in jail in Pakistan since 2010.”

The struggle for concentrated power begins

Watch for Mullah Yaqoob to be the best long-term bet for consolidating power in Kabul under the Taliban banner. As a field commander, he is in the best position to command the action on the ground. He will undoubtedly continue to defer to Mullah Akhunzada as a support for his consolidation of power.
Afghanistan being essentially tribal and regional the Haqqani network will continue to be a major player. This ensures its scion, Surajaddin Haqqani, an independent power base, especially in the districts along the Pakistani border.
Expect Mullah Akhunzada to play a role similar to Ayatollah Sistani in Iraq, or Ayatollah Khamenei in Iran, as a stabilizing final voice among a jostling Taliban leadership. Mullah Yaqoob has deferred to Akunzada in a leadership role to focus on operational commands in the field. It is a sign of both respect and political maturity as he bides his time.

The rise of the young lions: Yaqoob and Haqqani

Mullah Baradar, Deputy Minister Stanikzai, and Abdel Haqqani will be the face of the Taliban in Doha. But what happens on the ground in Kabul and Kandahar and Herat is what matters. Of the young lions in the new Taliban leadership, Mullah Yaqoob and Surajaddin Haqqani are most likely to emerge as the long-term players in the new government as power consolidates.
Yaqoob has both the pedigree of Mullah Omar, command leadership and the imprimatur of Mullah Akhunzada. Haqqani has the extensive backing of one of the most powerful clans in Afghanistan. They will need to reach an understanding as events develop. Or other power centers may emerge as an uncertain future takes shape in a Taliban. It may well be that the elders in Doha have little operational control on the ground in Kabul.

A new Afghanistan presents a new geopolitical dynamic

Soon the Taliban will no longer be an American problem. But they will be a problem for Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Iran. The new Taliban army in Afghanistan will be a security threat to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Millions of refugees may soon be on the move. To all the countries in the region. Routed Afghan warlords and elements of the Afghan army have crossed into neighboring countries to plan future adventures.

The new Taliban army will be one of the most well equipped in the region.

They may even pose a problem for their Pakistani masters. On the ground, there are many elements involved, depending on the region of the country. Elements of Al Qaeda are involved in the campaign in the Northern region. 5000 ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Taliban prisoners were freed yesterday from prison in Bagram Air Base. That can only be a bad sign of things to come. Meanwhile, Pashtuns in the south may find little common ground with their Tajik, Turkmen, or Uzbek rivals.

Tribalism will almost certainly reassert itself

In the aftermath of the American humiliation, old passions will emerge. Pashtun against Tajik against Turkmen. The Hazara, a large ethnic group whose faith is considered apostasy by the Taliban, will be targeted for prosecution. Think of the Yazidi in Iraq and ISIS. Afghan soldiers and translators and anyone who worked for the former government will be targeted and killed.

The untold horrors for Afghan women range from forced child marriage to subjugation under the burqa.

Don’t expect the Taliban to be good players on the international stage

China will almost certainly recognize and prop up the new regime with multi-billion dollar loans. Russia, Iran, and Turkey are eager to engage the new regime. All feel they have a stake in its future. None more so than Pakistan.

But the worm could turn. The Taliban could incite Islamic insurrection in the former Soviet republics and in Western China. They could turn on their former Pakistani masters to destabilize Pakistan itself and seize its Islamic arsenal of 100 nuclear weapons. They could extend their hold as a regional player in a place where Afghanistan has always been a pawn of greater powers.

Regardless, the United States will not be a player in the coming events. That could be a blessing as the powers in the region are forced to deal with the forces of chaos and upheaval. While the Taliban formulates the next brutal chapter in their internal power struggles for a new era of leadership. All amidst the uncertainty, violence, retribution, and turmoil that is yet to come.

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L.J. Keith

LJ Keith is a non-partisan commentator taking aim at all aspects of governmental domestic and foreign policy and the American socio-political landscape with an eye toward examining the functional realities of the modern age, how they can be understood, and what context to view the changing face of life in America and its place in the world at large.