The CIA Captured Him and Trump Let Him Out. Now He’s Set to Lead Afghanistan.

Abdul Ghani Baradar was captured by the CIA and spent years in prison before being freed by the Trump administration. He's likely to be the Taliban's new head of government.
September 3, 2021, 3:06pm
The CIA Captured Him and Trump Let Him Out: Meet the Expected New Leader of Afghanistan
Mike Pompeo, then the US Secretary of State, and Abdul Ghani Baradar pictured in Qatar last year. Photo: US State Department

Although an expected announcement of the new Taliban-led government of Afghanistan failed to materialise after Friday’s religious prayers, the group is widely expected to name a theocratic slate of Islamic judges to key positions, with the political leadership role expected to go to a former prisoner of the CIA who later personally negotiated the US departure with the Trump administration.

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Abdul Ghani Baradar, whose age is unknown, remains poised to be named the political head of state, a role comparable to head of government, leading a mix of Taliban factions including political powers such as the Haqqani network and groups from the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, considered the heartland of the mostly ethnic Pashtun Taliban. 

Once a close friend of the Taliban’s first leader, Mohammed Omar, Baradar spent years leading Taliban forces and managing its shadow governments in multiple provinces before being captured in a 2010 CIA operation in Pakistan. He was imprisoned until 2018 when he was released at the request of the Trump administration. 

After his release, to join a Taliban negotiating team in Doha, Qatar, he played a high-profile role in working out a deal for American troops to leave in exchange for an end to attacks on US troops. By last year, his perceived value to the talks by American diplomats and the Trump administration led to a photo-op between Baradar and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

During the talks, which led to an agreement in 2020 with Trump that was implemented this summer by the Biden administration, a Washington Post profile quoted Baradar as expressing hope for a reasonable political accommodation with the rest of Afghanistan. 

He adopted the language of reconciliation, said the Post, saying the Taliban was seeking “an Islamic system in which all people of the nation can participate without discrimination and live harmoniously with each other in an atmosphere of brotherhood.”

But Baradar’s expected role as a head of state will not be conventional. As already announced by the Taliban leadership, it plans to rule according to its usually austere interpretation of Islamic law, Sharia.

Expecting a system similar to Iran, where politics and administration is generally overseen by a supreme religious authority, who approves government policy at the highest levels, experts have tipped Haibatullah Akhundzada, the group’s top religious authority, as likely to play a similar role in the new government.