Mullah Baradar... a journey from Kandahar to Karachi

Mullah Baradar... a journey from Kandahar to Karachi

* Captured Taliban commander masterminded burqa-clad Mullah Omar’s escape on motorbike
* Elusive Taliban leader married burqa owner ‘out of respect, honour’
By Owais Tohid, Daily Times, February 20, 2010

I waited in the courtyard for news from inside, sipping endless cups of qahwa and watching young soldiers – sporting turbans, beards and uniform long hair – parade with submachine guns and rocket launchers. There was nothing else to peer at: Mullah Omar’s enormous house in Kandahar had no windows.

The top Taliban leadership was engaged in a closed-door session with a UN delegation, headed by Lakhdar Ibrahimi, as the group desperately vied for membership of the international body.

Next to me, then information minister Maulvi Mutameen strained at some invisible signal, and suddenly shouts of “Allah-o-Akbar” echoed through the surroundings, marking the arrival of the person all had been waiting for – Mullah Baradar. The armed warriors jubilantly announced the arrival. Mullah Baradar had recently conquered Bamiyan, and Mullah Omar had summoned him to Kandahar for consultations ahead of the talks with the UN delegation.

Surrounded by armed guards, Baradar strode confidently, sporting a black turban and a waistcoat of the same colour. The athletic built, prominent cheekbones and deep-set eyes commanded attention. As we embraced and shook hands in the traditional Pushto way, he was told I was a Pakistani Muslim working for a “farangi” organisation.

“No harm in working for goras as long as Muslims serve the cause of the Ummah,” he said to me in Urdu. I made an attempt drawing him into conversation for the story I had to write for AFP. “The West doesn’t recognise us because they want us to live like them,” he said.

Almost a fortnight ago, Baradar’s cage got smaller. His arrest by Pakistan’s intelligence agents collaborating with the US CIA – apparently from a house in the labyrinthine neighbourhood of Baldia on the outskirts of Karachi – shattered the ranks of the Taliban.

Sources say he had been on the intelligence radar for several weeks. Constant monitoring of his movements, coupled with human intelligence, interception of numerous mobile and satellite phone conversations of jihadis and images, finally trapped him while holding what he believed to be a secret meeting, ending a two-decade journey – from Kandahar to Karachi. Baradar hails from Uruzgan – Mullah Omar’s native province in southern Afghanistan – and belongs to the respected Pashtun Popalzai tribe occupying both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. Afghan President Hamid Karazai is also a son of the same tribe.

Baradar was amongst the first ones to take bait – or oath of allegiance – to Mullah Omar when the Taliban movement was out into motion from Kandahar in 1994. When the Taliban took over Kabul, he was appointed governor of Herat following the defeat of Governor Ismail.

His rank within the Taliban hierarchy rose after he gave Mullah Omar a new lease of life when the elusive Taliban leader was on the run post-9/11. “The Americans were bombing the surroundings of Kandahar after the 9/11 attacks. Mullah Omar and his mujahids were almost trapped ... it was commander Baradar who came up with the idea to make an escape on motorbikes,” a Pakistani jihadi, who has fought in Afghanistan, quoted an Afghan Talib as saying. “Mullah Baradar gave the burqa to Mullah Omar, who – after initially refusing but later putting it on – mounted a motorbike like an Afghan woman. Baradar himself rode the bike and dodged the Americans.” The burqa was borrowed from the family which sheltered the Taliban leaders, and in return, Mullah Omar married the owner of the burqa “out of respect and honour”.

“He is very brave. He has the brains of a tactician and the soul of a mujahid,” says a source familiar with the Taliban working, referring to Baradar. “It was he who introduced the maximum use of explosives in the battlefield against the Americans.”

It is said that shadow governments of the Taliban in various parts of southern Afghanistan were also his brainchild. He also introduced a code of conduct outlining ethics and morals for “holy warriors”.

He apparently took the reigns as the military commander of the Taliban after the killing of Mullah Dadullah, the one-legged Taliban commander, in 2007 and the subsequent arrest of important Taliban shura member Mullah Obaidullah Akhund. But the new assignment, some believe, did not allow him to shadow Mullah Omar like he did earlier. Baradar himself has had narrow escapes. In July 2002, he barely escaped when the US bombed a wedding in Uruzgan province, instead killing Afghan civilians. Sources say it was the wedding of Baradar’s niece. The brother-in-law was apparently paid off by the Americans, and he told them that Baradar had been invited. However, his nephew overheard the conversation over the phone and tipped off Baradar, allowing him to set up a trap for the Americans instead, say the sources, adding that his comrades opened fire at the soldiers who were later rescued by the bombing of a US plane.

But for Baradar, luck seems to have run out. He is now being interrogated by Pakistani and US intelligence officials. His capture has earned high praises for Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. His arrest signals what many believe is an increase in cooperation between Islamabad and Washington.

Baradar’s arrest has also set off several theories. Some say that as of recently, he had distanced himself from his spiritual leader and shown flexibility to the idea of talks with the Americans. The Western media reported that Baradar facilitated a meeting last month in Dubai between mid-level Taliban commanders and Kai Eide, a top UN official in Kabul. For others, these seem to be rumours spread to keep the Taliban ranks intact by suggesting Baradar was “softening”.

Meanwhile, the Taliban are looking for a replacement for Baradar. Taliban sources say Mullah Omar has sent a message to the shura members and commanders to be “united against enemies and their conspiracies”.

But while some are encouraged and believe Baradar’s arrest has dealt a serious blow to the Taliban, others are more wary. The removal of a centralised leadership usually results in parallel, decentralised forms of decision-making by the followers. This would translate into an escalation of violence and attacks against international NGOs, aid workers and “softer” targets as “revenge” in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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