Asia - Pacific

Key leaders of Taliban, the 'students' of warfare

Most leaders currently based in Doha, served in earlier Taliban government in Kabul

Islamuddin Sajid and Shadi Khan Saif   | 17.08.2021
Key leaders of Taliban, the 'students' of warfare

KABUL, Afghanistan/ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

The Taliban, or "students" in the Pashto language, first emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan after the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The US invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks put an end to the rule of the Taliban emirate in 2001, only to re-emerge after two decades as a stronger political power.

Here is a brief introduction of some of the key Taliban figures.

Mawlawi Hibatullah AKhundzada (Emir/Head)

Born in 1961 in southern Kandahar province, Akhundzada has a more prominent background as a religious leader who oversaw legal and Sharia (Islamic law and jurisprudence) related matters as head of the judiciary during the Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001. The Taliban leader hails from the powerful Nurzai clan of ethnic Pashtuns. He took over in 2016 after his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan's southern Balochistan province.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar (Deputy Head)

Baradar, a founding member of the Taliban movement in the 1990s, now heads the group's Doha political office. Baradar, a 53-year-old member of the Durani tribe of ethnic Pashtuns, served as provincial governor and deputy defense minister during the Taliban's rule. He was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan's port city, in 2010 and released in October 2018 at the request of the US. He is now in charge of the Doha Peace Office.

Sirajuddin Haqqani (Deputy Head)

Sirajuddin, as leader of the Taliban's partner and fierce Haqqani Network, oversees much of the group's operations in the eastern regions, including Pakia, Paktika, Khost, and Ningarhar provinces, as well as in and around Kabul. Haqqani is a Pashtun from Paktia and a member of the Zadran clan.

Mullah Muhammad Yaqoob (Deputy Head)

Yaqoob has been given this important position in the group because he is the son of the Taliban's founding leader and first 'Emir,' Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhundzada. Yaqoob, 31, is a Pashtun from the Hotak clan and has been the group's military chief since 2020, overseeing all ground engagements in Afghanistan.

Qari Din Mohammad

The 66-year-old ethnic Tajik from northern Badakhshan province has a long affiliation with the Taliban. He has served as minister for planning and higher education during the Taliban regime, and now is a key member of the Taliban peace negotiation team in Doha.

Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanafi

The 54-year-old is ethnic Uzbek from the northern Faryab province and has long been affiliation with the Taliban. He has served as governor as well as deputy minister during the Taliban rule, and after their fall in 2001, he served as chief military commander in the north of the country. He is currently serving as a member of the peace negotiating team in Doha.

Qari Faseehuddin

As a young ethnic Tajik from the northern Badakhshan province, Qari Faseehuddin serves as the military chief for the group in the north of the country.

Mullah Abdul Hakeem (Chief peace broker)

Considered as a hardline cleric, Hakeem (54) is believed to be a close aide to Taliban chief Hibatullah and is the shadow chief justice in the country. He comes from the Ishaqzai clan of the Pashtuns.

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai (former chief broker)

Stanikzai, who received military training in India in the 1970s, rose to the ranks of deputy minister during the Taliban regime and later served as a chief peace negotiator in Doha before Mullah Hakeem. The 58-year-old Pashtun comes from the Stanekzai clan.

Mullah Muhammad Fazal Akhund (former chief of staff)

Fazal is regarded as one of the Taliban's most ferocious frontline commanders. He was released from Guantanamo Bay after 12 years of detention in exchange for a captured US soldier. Fazel is a Pashtun from the Durrani tribe and a native of Uruzgan province.

Mali Khan

He is a family relative of Sirajuddin Haqqani and is believed to be the main leader in organizing funds and operations in Afghanistan. He is a Pashtun from the Zadran tribe.

Ibrahim Sadr

Among a slew of active field commanders, Ibrahim Sadr earned a reputation as a long-serving Taliban military commander before handing over the reins to Mullah Omar's son. Sadr is a battle-hardened Pashtun commander from the Alokozay tribe.

Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar

Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar is an ethnic Pashtun from Logar province, and his father, Syed Akbar, was a member of the Wolesi Jirga during King Zahir Shah's reign. During the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan, Dilawar held positions, including ambassador to Pakistan, a representative in the Peshawar consulate, chargé d'affaires in Saudi Arabia, and Deputy Chief Justice of the Kandahar Appeal Court. He also fought in the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad. Dilawar is currently based in Doha and is a member of the peace negotiating team. He is fluent in Arabic, English, Dari, and Pashto and has completed his higher education.

Maulvi Abdul Kabeer

Maulvi Abdul Kabeer is also of Pashtun ethnicity and hails from Paktia province, which borders Pakistan but has spent time in Baghlan province as well. During the Taliban regime, he was governor of Kandahar and deputy director of Kabul's ministerial council on economic affairs. He is currently based in Doha and is a member of the Taliban peace negotiating team. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2009, but he was later released.

Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa

Khairkhwa is an ethnic Pashtun and belongs to the Kandahar province. He served as military commander during fighting against the US, earlier during Taliban rule, he served as interior minister, governor of Herat province. He was arrested in 2002 in Pakistan near the Afghan border and held for around 12 years in Guantanamo Bay prison. Currently, he is living in Doha and was part of the Taliban peace negotiation team.

Mullah Mohammad Faazel Mazlum

He is a Pashtun from Kandahar province. He was a military commander during the fight against the US, and he previously served as interior minister and governor of Herat province during Taliban rule. He was taken into custody in 2002 near the Afghan border in Pakistan and held in the Guantanamo Bay prison for nearly 12 years. He is currently residing in Doha and is a member of the Taliban peace negotiation team.

Mullah Amir Khan Mutaqi

Motaqi is a well-known Taliban commander who is ethnically Pashtun from Paktia but has lived in Zabul, Kandahar, and Helmand provinces. During the Taliban regime, he was the minister of culture, information, and education. He is also close to Taliban chief Haibatullah, having served as his personnel secretary before being appointed to the Doha negotiating team.

Mullah Noorullah Noori

Noori is from Zabul province, where ethnic Pashtuns make up the majority of the population. During the Taliban's rule, he was the governor of Balkh and Laghman, as well as the military commander of the northern zone. He was apprehended by Gen. Dostum's militia in 2001 and handed over to the US, who moved him to Guantanamo Bay in 2002, where he spent about 13 years. He is also currently residing in Doha as a member of the Taliban's negotiating team.

Mullah Abdul Latif Mansoor

Mansoor is a Pashtun from the Paktia province. He served as agriculture minister and spent the majority of his life in Pakistan, where he completed his Islamic studies at the Haqqania seminary in Akora Khattak, in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. He is the nephew of Mewlavi Nasrullah Mansoor, a former Jihadi commander. Mansoor currently lives in Qatar with his family and is a member of the Taliban's peace negotiation team.

Mullah Abdul Haq Waseeq

Waseeq is from the Ghazni province. He completed his education in Pakistan. During the Taliban regime, he worked as an intelligence assistant officer. The US troops apprehended him in Ghazni province in 2001 and transferred him to the Guantanamo Bay prison. After serving 12 years in a US military prison, he was released as part of a prisoner swap. Waseeq is currently residing in Qatar as a member of the Taliban negotiating team.

Maulvi Matiulhaq Khales

Khales is a Pashtun from the province of Nangarhar. He is the son of Maulvi Younas Khales, a former Jihadi commander who founded Hizb-e-Islami (Khales group). He has studied in Saudi Arabia.

Mohammad Naeem

Mohammad Naeem is from the Maidan Wardak province. He studied at the Darul Uloom Haqqani seminary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northwestern Pakistan. He received his doctorate in Arabic Literature from Islamabad's Islamic University. He is currently the spokesman for the Taliban political office in Doha.

Suhail Shaheen

Suhail Shaheen is from Paktia, a Pashtun-majority province in Afghanistan. He attended the Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital city. He is currently the spokesman for the Taliban political office in Doha. He was the editor-in-chief of the Kabul Times during the Taliban regime. He has also served as the second secretary in Afghanistan's embassy in Islamabad and as the spokesperson for the foreign ministry.

Anas Haqqani

Anas Haqqani is the youngest member of the Taliban's Doha negotiating team; he is from Paktia province and the son of renowned Jihadi leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, founder of the Haqqani Network. Sirajuddin Haqqani, his brother, is the network's commander. Anas was arrested in 2014 and transferred to Qatar after serving six years in Bagram prison.

Mullah Mohammad Shirin Akhund

Mullah Shirin Akhund, who is from Kandahar province, and remained close to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar, was in charge of his security during the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan. He was also the commander of military intelligence and the governor of Kandahar province.

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