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Questions in Kabul as two top Taliban leaders ‘missing from public view’

The Guardian logo The Guardian 14/09/2021 Emma Graham-Harrison in Kandahar
a man standing in front of a building: Portraits of Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada for sale in Kabul. He has not been seen in public, despite the group taking the city a month ago. © Photograph: EPA Portraits of Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada for sale in Kabul. He has not been seen in public, despite the group taking the city a month ago.


Two senior Taliban leaders have gone missing from public view, leading some Afghans to question whether the group’s supreme leader and new deputy prime minister are alive.

The top Taliban leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, has not been seen in public a month after the militants seized control of Afghanistan. A spokesperson has gone on the record to deny rumours of his death.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the Taliban’s most recognised faces, has also gone missing. Questions about the wellbeing of the head of the political office and key figure in peace talks began mounting after he was not seen in public for several days.

There have been rumours in Kabul that he had been killed or badly injured in a fight with another senior Taliban figure during an argument about how to divide Afghanistan’s ministries.

Official efforts on Monday to dispel the rumours appeared to deepen the mystery. The Taliban released photos of a handwritten note from one of Baradar’s deputies saying he was in Kandahar, then shared an audio message purporting to be from Baradar, set against old photos. The absence of a video raised more questions with Afghans as the Taliban are no longer an insurgent group in hiding, and Baradar’s face is well known due to his international role.


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Spokesman Suhail Shaheen spelled out the rumours in English when he denied them on Twitter.

“Mullah Bradar, deputy PM, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, in a voice message rejected all those claims that he was injured or killed in a clash. He says it is lies and totally baseless,” he wrote, using an alternative spelling of the leader’s name.

Videos and a photo also shared online, purporting to show Baradar in Kandahar, did not feature anything that could confirm when they were taken.

The group’s record may have fuelled the theories. The death of founding leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was concealed for two years and, during that time, the Taliban continued to issue statements in his name.

Baradar was already considered to have lost out in the internal Taliban disputes over the formation of the new government, according to the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

Of the three men who were deputies to the group’s supreme leader before Kabul fell, Baradar was the only one not to have secured a major ministry. Military leader Yaqub Omar, son of the group’s founding leader, was given the defence ministry, and Sirajuddin Haqqani secured the interior ministry.

Afghanistan Analysts Network also noted that Akhundzada’s absence from all public and private events, nearly a month after Kabul fell, suggested that he was no longer alive. The analysts noted that even the reclusive Mullah Omar made some public appearances, albeit not on video, when he ruled the country. These included meeting foreign officials and giving radio statements and interviews.

“It would be strange, therefore, if Haibatullah, now that the movement is in power, were alive and still so secluded. For the moment he appears to function as a symbolic figurehead who can unify without actually appearing or speaking.”

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