Taliban Leader Baradar Returns to Kabul Aiming to Form Government

The Taliban appeared closer to forming a government nearly a week after seizing the capital as their leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Kabul to begin talks with former President Hamid Karzai and other politicians.

“The negotiations are going on right now,” said Ahmadullah Waseq, deputy of the Taliban’s cultural affairs committee, who confirmed Mr. Baradar’s arrival in the capital. For now, he said, Taliban officials are largely talking among themselves in preparation for the negotiations.

“Then we will talk with other parties to form an inclusive government acceptable to all Afghans,” Mr. Waseq added. “It is not clear when will we have a new government, but we are trying to announce it as soon as we can.”

Mr. Baradar began making his way back to Afghanistan this week from Qatar, where he was the Taliban’s chief negotiator in negotiations with the former government.

As the group’s leaders gather in Kabul for talks about the new government, thousands of Afghans continue to crowd the Kabul airport and risk Taliban beatings, desperate to find space on an evacuation flight. The situation there is fueling concern about the group’s ability to run a war-weary nation besieged by a humanitarian crisis, growing dissent and fears about a return to their harsh and violent rule.

Although U.S. troops are accelerating the evacuations, President Biden has made it clear that the mission will not be open-ended, raising the risk that many Afghans will be left behind to face life under the new regime.

Since capturing Kabul, the Taliban have sought to rebrand themselves as more moderate, promising former rivals amnesty, urging women to join their government, pledging stability at home and trying to persuade the international community to see beyond a bloody past defined by violence and repression.

But many in Afghanistan and abroad are deeply skeptical of their professed transformation, recalling the Taliban’s mode of governance in the late 1990s, when they imposed a harsh interpretation of Islam that deprived women of basic rights like education and encouraged punishments like floggings, amputations and mass executions.

As the Taliban prepare the rough outlines of their new government, Mr. Baradar, one of the group’s founders, is emerging as the leader of what the group refers to as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

A a longtime powerful lieutenant to the Taliban’s founding supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, he has a large and loyal following among the Taliban rank and file. He also recently acted as chief negotiator in high-level peace talks in Qatar, where he presided over the agreement that cleared the way for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The new government will face huge challenges, including a lack of legitimacy as everyday Afghans, members of the security and intelligence services, foreign governments and the international community may not accept them as the rightful government of the Afghan people.

Basic services like electricity are under threat as many fearful state employees have not turned up for work for fear of Taliban retribution. And a humanitarian crisis is intensifying, with two-thirds of the country suffering from malnutrition.

The situation will by exacerbated by the lack of funding. Washington has frozen Afghan government reserves held in U.S. bank accounts, and the International Monetary Fund has blocked Afghanistan from accessing emergency reserves.

In recent days, Taliban leaders including Amir Khan Muttaqi, a former information minister, have been in talks with onetime adversaries, including the former U.S.-backed president, Mr. Karzai, about the shape of a new government

Mr. Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah — a former chief executive of the government and now chairman of high national reconciliation council — are well-known to world leaders and their involvement could help give a veneer of credibility to the new government. But observers have also looked on with alarm at the ascent of other figures like Khalil Haqqani, 48, a leader of one of the most powerful and violent Taliban factions, who is expected to play a prominent role.

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