A Once-vanquished Insurgent Returns as Afghanistan’s Likely Next Leader

The man likely to be Afghanistan’s next leader entered Kandahar on Tuesday escorted by a fleet of white SUVs, showered by fireworks and greeted by thousands of Afghans, at least a few holding rocket-propelled grenades. For years, the Taliban’s political leaders were ghosts, the invisible strategists of a powerful insurgency, and now here was the convoy carrying Abdul Ghani Baradar.

Some people in the crowd cheered. Many others just stared ahead, transfixed.

Baradar had spent more than half of his adult life as an insurgent or a prisoner, once so certain of his defeat that he prepared a formal surrender after the U.S. invasion following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But he emerged from his convoy — in a flowing, white robe, with wire-rimmed glasses and a long black beard — as the force who had vanquished the United States and its allies.

No one knows exactly how old Baradar is — among the many outstanding questions about him. Right now, perhaps the most pressing: How will someone who split his last decade between a Pakistani prison and a luxury hotel in Doha govern a country where all state structures evaporated in a day?

Baradar was a close friend of Taliban founder Mohammad Omar. Both fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and rose to political power after the Soviet withdrawal. In the late 1990s, Baradar served as the Taliban’s governor of several provinces, among the leaders presiding over a regime that conveyed power through repression and violence.

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Source: Kevin Sieff, Josh Partlow, the Washington Post