Exiled Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was shown getting a hero’s welcome from the extremist group as he arrived back in Afghanistan this week — as formal negotiations started Wednesday about forming a new government.
The feared leader, nicknamed “Baradar the Butcher,” was mobbed as soon as he stepped off a Qatari government aircraft Tuesday in Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, which he helped start there in 1994.
The Taliban confirmed he had returned to his “beloved country,” which he fled soon after the US invasion in 2001. He was later captured in Pakistan, moving to Qatar after his release in 2018.
Footage released by the Taliban-affiliated Al Hijrat TV shows helpers forming a barricade with their arms to protect him from dozens of well-wishers screaming support and punching the air in triumph.
More were waiting outside, with other footage showing a mass of cheering supporters mobbing his convoy with cries of “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great.”
Baradar started the Taliban in 1994 with late leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. They were so close, they were even rumored to have married sisters, according to a 2010 profile in the Times of London.
He became known for some of the Islamic militants’ most deadly tactics, including planting improvised explosive devices along streets their enemies would be on, calling the IEDs “flowers,” the UK paper’s profile said.
Now he is expected to play a central role in what the group has claimed will be an “inclusive, Islamic government.”
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai — who was put in power soon after the Sept. 11 attacks — met Wednesday with Anas Haqqani, a senior leader in a powerful Taliban faction of the same name that the US branded a terrorist group in 2012.
It was part of preliminary meetings to facilitate eventual negotiations with Baradar, confirmed Karzai’s spokesman, Mohammad Yusof Saha.
The pair also met with Abdullah Abdullah, a senior official in the recently ousted government, after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country soon after his palace was taken Sunday.
The UAE’s Foreign Ministry acknowledged in a one-sentence statement Wednesday that Ghani and his family were in the country for “humanitarian considerations.”
The US Embassy in Abu Dhabi did not immediately respond to a request for comment, the Associated Press said. It was unclear if he’d received any other assistance from the UAE, a close ally of the US.
With Post wires
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