Top 8 Mighty Masters Of Afghanistan

The Taliban took power in Afghanistan just over a week ago. Since then, events have come thick and fast, because their opponents are pulling fighters together as well. The fear of civil war is growing. An overview of the key players in the crisis:

Haibatullah Achundsada

Before he was appointed supreme Taliban leader, Achundsada was an Islamist preacher without a high profile, a religious scholar and Sharia judge from the Afghan province of Kandahar. After his predecessor Mullah Mansur was killed in a US attack in 2016, Achundzada, as the “leader of the faithful”, makes the final decisions on political, religious and military affairs of the Taliban. The hardliner is probably around 60 years old and belongs to the founding generation of the movement. He should have good contacts with Iran and Russia. His appointment was seen as a sign that he should serve primarily as an ideological leader and less as a military commander of the Taliban. He was given the task of reuniting the fragmented militia. After Mansur’s death, there was initially a power struggle at the Taliban’s management level. The support of Achundzada by the head of the Al-Qaeda terror network is seen as central to securing his power. Its leader, Aiman al-Zawahiri, declared Achundzada in 2016 an “emir of the believers”.

Abdul Ghani Baradar

Abdul Ghani Baradar from Kandahar is now sort of number two in the Taliban’s hierarchy. He first appeared as an insurgent during the Soviet invasion in the late 1970s. He is said to have fought together with the notorious one-eyed cleric Mullah Omar. In the midst of the Afghan civil war, Omar and Baradar founded the Taliban militia in the early 1990s. After the US-led invasion and the 2001 victory over the Taliban, Baradar was allegedly one of a small group within the militia who proposed an agreement to Afghan interim president Hamid Karzai that would recognize the government in Kabulprovided by the Taliban. In 2010, Baradar was arrested in Pakistan. In 2018 he was released under pressure from the USA and transferred to Qatar, where he headed the Taliban’s political office. He was an important contact person in the negotiations with the USA, he spoke to then President Donald Trump on the phone, and he met Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo personally. In February 2020 he signed the agreement to end the US-led military operation. At the end of July, he led a Taliban delegation to China, where they were given a great reception in the city of Tianjin with Beijing’s Foreign Office chief Wang Yi.

Sirajuddin Hakkani

The son of the notorious jihadist Jalaluddin Hakkani is also one of the deputy Taliban chiefs and leader of the Hakkani network within the Taliban militia, which is known for its use of suicide bombers. The USA classifies the Hakkani network as a terrorist organization, among other things because of connections to al-Qaeda. It is said to have been responsible for some of the largest attacks in Kabul in recent years, murdering several senior Afghan government officials and kidnapping numerous Western citizens, including US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was released in 2014. The Hakkani network is said to have a high level of tactical skill in combat, but also in business deals. It is presumed that it controls the Taliban operations in the mountainous east of the country and that it has great influence in the governing bodies of the Taliban. Hakkani is said to be in his mid 40s. The US has put a seven-figure bounty on him.

Ahmad Massoud

The Tajik leader is probably one of the Taliban’s strongest opponents at the moment. He is based in the Punjir Valley, 150 kilometers northeast of Kabul, which was a center of resistance against the Taliban in the 1990s and has never come under the control of the Islamists to this day. Born in 1989, Masoud has called on Afghans to join him and fight against the Taliban. He went to school in Iran and studied in London. It helps that his father is a legend: Ahmad Shah Massud fought against the Soviets in the 1980s as a guerrilla commander of the Northern Alliance; from 1996 to 2001 he fought the Taliban. On September 9, 2001, two days before 9/11, he was killed by al-Qaeda. Afghanistan expert Tamim Ansary saysthat the son inherited his father’s eloquence and charisma. Whether he also had his father’s military genius remains to be seen.

Ashraf Ghani

Ashraf Ghani was President of Afghanistan until just over a week ago. He succeeded Hamid Karzai in 2014 after a controversial election and took up his second term in early 2020. When the Taliban captured Kabul a week ago and took power in the country, Ghani fled into exile. He is in the United Arab Emirates. But there should be talks about a return to Afghanistan, at least that is what Ghani said in a video message last week. Ghani grew up in the Logar Province as the son of an influential family. The now 72-year-old belongs to the largest Afghan ethnic group, the Pashtuns. After studying in Lebanon and the USA, where he received his doctorate in anthropology from Columbia University in New York, Ghani worked for the World Bank for more than ten years from 1991. He only returned to his homeland after the fall of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001. In the interim government of President Hamid Karzai, he was finance minister until 2004 and played a key role in the introduction of the Afghan currency. After the 2014 and 2019 elections, he fought a power struggle with his opponent Abdullah Abdullah — it was he of all people who announced that Ghani had left the country in the face of the advance of the Taliban.

Abdullah Abdullah

Abdullah Abdullah had applied for the office of Afghan President several times — in 2009 he competed against then President Hamid Karzai, in 2014 and 2019 he competed against his successor Ashraf Ghani. But Abdullah, who was Foreign Minister under Karzai until 2006, always got the short straw. In Ghani’s first term in office, he finally became a kind of prime minister as the government manager. After another bitter power struggle that followed the 2019 election and paralyzed the crisis country even more, he became chairman of the Council for National Reconciliation, playing a key role in the peace talks with the Taliban. After the seizure of power, he took part in talks with representatives of the Taliban. He recently also came with elders, religious scholars and other representatives of the Punjir province — the only one that the Islamists have not yet brought under their control. Abdullah was born in the capital Kabul, the 60-year-old is half-Tajik. Abdullah studied medicine and practiced as an ophthalmologist. He was a confidante of the Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud.

Hamid Karzai

The roar of helicopters could be heard in the background as Hamid Karzai addressed the residents of Kabul. The day the Taliban captured the Afghan capital and it became known that President Ashraf Ghani had left the country, the ex-president said in a video that he and his family had stayed. Karzai has not been president since 2014, but keeps getting involved when it comes to the future of the country — this is also the case now: Karzai is part of the Coordination Council, which holds talks with representatives of the Taliban. The 63-year-old emerged victorious in Afghanistan’s first presidential election in 2004; in 2001, the Bonn Afghanistan Conference appointed him interim president. But over the years not only the support in the country waned, but also that of the West. In the 2009 election there was massive fraud, which the then president’s camp was charged with. In addition, his government did not solve the countless problems in the country, above all corruption and the security situation. Karzai belongs to the powerful Pashtun tribe of the Popalzai.

Gulbuddin Hekmatjar

The Pashtun is not part of the Taliban, but is still considered one of the cruelest warlords in the country’s history. He is known as the “butcher of Kabul” because he bombed the city during the civil war of the 1990s, killing thousands of civilians. Hekmatjar is currently under discussion again: According to ex-President Hamid Karzai, he is on a coordination council for a peaceful transfer of power. In 2017 the Afghan government tried to include him as an ally, in 2019 he was a candidate for the presidential election in Afghanistan, but was rejected. Hekmatjar and his group Hisb-i Islami (“Party of God”) led the second largest resistance group after the Taliban against the Afghan government and international troops. In the 1980s, the Islamist extremist, who was probably born in 1949, was the mujahideen leader against the Soviets most financed by the United States and Saudi Arabia.

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