Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar is now expected to play a key role in negotiations between the Taliban and officials from the Afghan government that the militant group deposed in its blitz across the country. Taliban claim that they want an inclusive, Islamic government and have been more moderate since their last power.
Many remain skeptical and all eyes are on Baradar who has not said much about the group's governance but has been pragmatic in the past.
Baradar's biography charts the arc of the Taliban's journey from an Islamic militia that battled warlords during the civil war in the 1990s, ruled the country in accordance with a strict interpretation of Islamic law and then waged a two-decade insurgency against the U.S. His experience also sheds light on the Taliban's complicated relationship with neighboring Pakistan.
Baradar is the only surviving Taliban leader to have been personally appointed deputy by the late Taliban commander Mullah Mohammed Omar, giving Baradar near-legendary status within the movement. He is also visible more than Taliban supreme leader Maulawi Hibatullah Ashunzada who is thought to be hiding in Pakistan and makes only occasional statements.
Baradar, who was born in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, landed on Tuesday. This is the place where he founded the Taliban movement in the mid-1990s. As he emerged from a Qatari government plane and drove off in a convoy, Baradar was met with well-wishers. This marked the end of 20 years of exile.
Baradar, now in his 50s, was raised in southern Uruzgan. He joined the ranks the CIA-backed and Pakistan-backed mujahideen in order to fight the Soviet Union's decade-long occupation of Afghanistan that ended in 1989.
The country fell into civil war in the 1990s as rival mujahideen waged war against each other and carved out fiefdoms. In order to finance their military activities, warlords created brutal protection networks and checkpoints where their forces could shake down travelers.
The Taliban was founded by Mullah Omar and Baradar in 1994. It means religious students. This group consisted mainly of young, pious men and clerics, many of whom had been forced from their homes and had only known war. Their uncompromising interpretation of Islam helped them to stand out from the corrupt warlords.
As Mullah Omar led the Taliban to its seize of power in 1996, and then its return as an insurgent after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, Baradar fought alongside him.
The president and the governing council were located in Kabul during the 1996-2001 period. Baradar, however, spent most of his time Kandahar as the spiritual capital of Taliban and didn't have any official government position.
After the 9/11 attacks Osama Bin Laden's al Qaida planned and executed, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. Afghanistan was still under Taliban control. Baradar, Omar, and other Taliban leaders fled to Pakistan.
The Taliban organized a powerful insurgency that was based in semi-autonomous tribal regions along the border over the following years. In 2010, the CIA and Pakistani counterterrorism forces conducted a joint raid in Karachi, Pakistan to arrest Baradar.
He had been making peace talks to Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai at the time. But the U.S. wanted military victory and it seemed that Pakistan wanted to control any political process. Baradar's defection empowered Taliban leaders who were more open to diplomacy.
Karzai later confirmed that he made the overtures to The Associated Press. He said he had twice requested the Americans and Pakistanis to release Baradar from jail but was rebuffed. Baradar refused to be released in 2013, likely because the U.S. or Pakistan had made conditions on his cooperation.
Karzai, who is now involved in talks with the Taliban about shaping the next government, could once again find himself negotiating with Baradar.
In 2018, the Taliban had taken control of large swathes of Afghanistan's rural areas. In an effort to end America's longest war, the Trump administration persuaded Pakistan in 2018 to release Baradar and began peace negotiations with the Taliban.
Baradar led the Taliban's negotiation team in Qatar through several rounds, culminating with a February 2020 peace accord. He also met with Mike Pompeo, the then-U.S. Secretary.
The Taliban agreed to stop terrorist attacks against international forces and that Afghanistan would not become a safe haven for terrorist groups. In return, the United States will withdraw completely from Afghanistan, which is now scheduled for the end the month.
Last week, the Taliban invaded the country's major cities. They captured almost all of it in a matter of days. The Taliban then marched virtually unopposed into Kabul, the capital.
After the capture of Kabul, Baradar made his first comment, stating that he was surprised to hear that he would win in Afghanistan.
The bespectacled Baradar wore a black turban, vest and a white robe over the robe.
He said, "Now comes the challenge." "We must face the challenge of serving our nation and giving it a stable future."