Key players in the Taliban's new govt in Afghanistan

Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar, the main public face of the movement, will be the deputy leader.
Taliban co-founder Abdul Ghani Baradar, the main public face of the movement, will be the deputy leader.PHOTO: AFP

KABUL (NYTIMES, AFP) - The Taliban on Tuesday (Sept 7) formally declared a caretaker government, appointing acting Cabinet ministers who were largely loyalists from the group’s first years of rule in the 1990s. 

Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund was named as leader while Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will be his deputy. Several Cabinet posts are yet to be announced. 

The list of ministers was the clearest indication yet that the group sees power as something to be shared exclusively among the victors, rather than fulfilling their promise of an inclusive government that factored in the reality of a changed Afghanistan where women and ethnic minorities were represented in decision-making. 

Though many of the new government’s senior figures have been in similar roles within the Taliban for years, relatively little is known about them, as the group's inner workings and leadership have long been shrouded in secrecy, even when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. 

Here are details about some of them: 

Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, prime minister


PHOTO: AFP

Seen as one of the founding members of the Taliban in the 1990s, Mr Hassan will hold the prime ministerial role that looks after the day to day of governing.

He is a Taliban veteran who was a close associate and political adviser to Mullah Omar, the founder of the movement and its first supreme leader. 

A member of the group's Supreme Council, he was a former deputy prime minister and foreign minister during the Taliban’s government that took control in the 1990s. 

During the two decades of insurgency after the Taliban fell from power, he remained low profile and in the shadows, helping to coordinate and run the Taliban’s leadership council in Quetta, Pakistan. From Kandahar, he also served as the Taliban governor of the key province. 

The United Nations said he had a reputation of having been "one of the most effective Taliban commanders". 

He was placed on a UN Security Council sanctions list connected to the "acts and activities" of the Taliban. 

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, deputy prime minister 


PHOTO: AFP

Mr Baradar was born in 1968 and raised in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement. Like most Afghans, his life was forever altered by the Soviet invasion of the country in the late 1970s, transforming him into an insurgent.

He was believed to have fought side by side with Mullah Mohammad Omar. The two would go on to found the Taliban movement in the early 1990s during the chaos and corruption of the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal.

He held senior posts in the first Taliban government, starting in 1996, and gained a reputation as one of the most brutal commanders on the battlefield as the Taliban sought to suppress their opponents among the northern resistance.

He was serving as deputy minister of defence in 2001, and after the Taliban regime was topped by the US-led forces that year, like other leaders, he fled to Pakistan.

When the Taliban reformed as an insurgency, Mr Baradar was Mr Omar’s principal deputy, and he led the movement’s military operations. He oversaw a sharp escalation of the insurgency in 2006, but was also believed to have been engaged in secret consultations with the emissaries of interim leader Hamid Karzai and international assistance organisations over a potential deal that would have seen the militants recognise the new administration.

He was detained in a joint US-Pakistani raid in 2010, which Pakistani officials later said had been to end his dialogue with the Karzai government. He was kept in custody until 2018, when - because of his respect within the Taliban and his previous openness to dialogue - the US pressed Pakistan to release him so he could help lead the talks that began in 2019. 

He relocated to Qatar, where he was appointed head of the Taliban's political office and oversaw the signing of the troop withdrawal agreement with the Trump administration in the US. During the talks, he struck up what several officials described as a warm relationship with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

In recent days, his movements within Afghanistan – first to Kandahar, the wellspring of the Taliban movement, and then to Kabul, where he began conducting leadership meetings – were seen as confirmation that the Taliban’s new government was near. 

Sirajuddin Haqqani, interior minister

Mr Haqqani, who is thought to be 48 and is the son of mujahedeen commander and Haqqani network founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, is emerging as one of the biggest winners in the return of the Taliban to power.

He will be the acting interior minister, in charge of law and order and possibly even local governance, and has also ensured his commanders’ positions in other key departments of the government.

In 2016, he became one of two deputies to the Taliban’s supreme leader, Sheikh Hibatullah Akhundzada, overseeing a sprawling web of fighters and religious schools, and leading much of the Taliban’s military efforts.

His Haqqani network - a US-designated terror group long viewed as one of the most dangerous militant factions in Afghanistan - is known for its close ties to the Pakistani intelligence service.

The network was the most dogged opponent of the US presence in Afghanistan, and was responsible for some of the most high-profile hostage-taking, targeted assassinations and suicide bombings over the years, including huge truck bombings that killed civilians in Kabul.

​Known for their independence, fighting acumen and savvy business dealings, the Haqqanis are mainly based in eastern Afghanistan and hold considerable sway over the Taliban's leadership council. Mr Haqqani and his network also have some of the strongest and longest-running ties to the Al-Qaeda.

“The Haqqanis sit at the nexus between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda – they are one of the key bridges,” said Mr Thomas Joscelyn, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies and senior editor of the group’s Long War Journal.

Mawlawi Muhammad Yaqoub, defence minister

Mr Yaqoub, who is thought to be about 30, is the head of the Taliban’s military commission, which oversaw the vast network of field commanders charged with executing the insurgency.

He is the oldest son of Omar, who enjoyed cult-like status as the Taliban leader, and that potent lineage makes him a unifying figure in the movement.

Mr Yaqoub's name came to public attention during the Taliban’s leadership succession in 2016. But though he had the support of some of the movement’s military commanders, concerns about his youth became a factor in the eventual decision to choose Mr Akhundzada as the insurgency’s overall leader.

In the years since, Mr Yaqoub has risen in prominence. And in recent days he took an increasingly public role in trying to keep order among the group’s triumphant rank and file, warning that anyone caught looting “will be dealt with”, and any theft of government property would be a betrayal of the country.

“There is no permission to take a car or a house from someone or anything else,” he said.

Amir Khan Muttaqi, foreign minister

Mr Muttaqi, who until recently was the head of the Taliban’s powerful Invitation and Guidance Commission responsible for persuading many members of the Afghan army and police forces to surrender in recent months, has been rewarded with the key post of foreign minister.

He served as information and culture minister, then education minister, in the first Taliban government. During the two decades of the Taliban insurgency, he helped shape the group’s strategy for propaganda and psychological warfare, before serving as chief of staff to the supreme leader and as a member of Taliban political delegation in Qatar. 

In a movement known for its shadowy ways, Mr Muttaqi has been one of the few consistent public faces since the 1990s. He was among the Taliban leaders who held back channel talks with US officials over the years and was among the first senior Taliban figures seen meeting with former Afghan officials, including Mr Karzai, the former president, as well as Mr Abdullah Abdullah, the former chief executive of the government, after the fall of Kabul.

Abdul Haq Wasiq, intelligence chief

Mr Wasiq was one of the five Guantanamo Bay prisoners released in exchange for the last US prisoner of war, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Upon his release, he arrived in Doha, Qatar, and became a key member of the Taliban’s talks with the US, spending months negotiating with his former captors their departure from Afghanistan. He is a native of Ghazni province and is believed to be in his early 50s.

While all five of the detainees who were part of the Bergdahl exchange have gotten senior positions in the new government – three of them ministerial roles, one deputy minister and one governor – Mr Wasiq steps into the key role of leading the same intelligence agency where he served as deputy in the 1990s. The intelligence agency was central to the Taliban’s hold on power as a police state that ran wide networks of informants.

His interrogation files from his time in Guantánamo accuse Mr Wasiq of close ties to Al-Qaeda, including arranging for the terrorist group to provide training for intelligence agents of the Taliban government.

Zabihullah Mujahid, deputy information and culture minister


PHOTO: AFP

Mr Mujahid, who says he is 43 and a native of Paktia province, has been the Taliban’s main spokesman and chief propagandist for years, answering reporters’ calls and keeping up a barrage of social media posts. But the world did not see his face until Aug 17, when he conducted the Taliban’s first in-person news conference in Kabul.

Since then, he has played a primary role in trying to urge Afghans and the world to accept the Taliban as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, and in saying that the group was turning away from some of the harsh policies of its first tenure in power.

“We don’t want Afghanistan to be a battlefield any more – from today onward, war is over,” he said at the news conference.

Khalil Haqqani, minister for refugees


PHOTO: NYTIMES

Mr Haqqani is a special representative of the Taliban’s supreme leader, and an uncle of the Taliban’s deputy leader. He has long been an important fundraiser for the Haqqani network, with close ties in the Gulf region, and he is included on US and UN lists of global terrorists.

In recent days, he has played a public role in establishing Taliban authority in Kabul.

Just a few days after Kabul’s fall, he appeared at a prominent mosque within the city and told a cheering crowd that the Taliban’s “first priority for Afghanistan is security – if there is no security, there is no life". 

He has been the primary Taliban figure in securing bayat, an Islamic oath of allegiance, from prominent Afghan figures over the past two weeks.