Taliban Leader Released From Prison By US Request Returns To Afghanistan 20 Years After Losing Power

(Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images)

Dylan Housman Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent
Font Size:

The Taliban’s top official reportedly returned to Afghanistan for the first time in at least a decade Tuesday less than three years after being released from prison at the request of the United States.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar arrived in Kabul Tuesday from Doha, Qatar, according to AFP News Agency which quoted Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. It is widely believed Baradar will take over as the new leader of Afghanistan now that the Taliban has overrun the capital and defeated the U.S.-backed government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Baradar helped co-found the Taliban after fighting in the Afghan-Soviet war in the 1980s and held various leadership positions as the deputy of the Taliban’s first leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, once the Taliban gained power in Afghanistan in 1996. He reportedly became the de facto leader of the insurgency sometime after it was ousted in 2001 and directed Taliban operations from Pakistan.

He was arrested by a team of Pakistani intelligence and CIA operatives during a raid near Karachi in 2010, leading to his imprisonment in Pakistan. In 2018, he was released from prison by Pakistan at the request of the United States due to the belief that he could be a valuable player in peace talks between the U.S. and the Islamic militants, as he had attempted to facilitate similar negotiations before in 2004 and 2009. (RELATED: ANALYSIS: Biden Was Dead Wrong On The Taliban Takeover)

“Pakistan historically has not played a positive role with regard to peace process, but I believe there is a positive change in recent times,” U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said at an event in Washington in 2019. “The release of Mullah Baradar, which was my request, they accommodated that because Baradar had a reputation of being more pro-peace.”

Baradar said Sunday in a televised speech that the Taliban’s real test was only just beginning, and that the militants would now have to serve the people of Afghanistan. The regime has so far projected a more moderate stance on women’s rights and other liberties compared to its previous reign in Afghanistan, but many citizens are skeptical that the new Taliban regime will be any less harsh than the old one. While they stormed across the country in recent weeks toward Kabul, the militant group reportedly executed numerous Afghan military, media and government members.