With Afghanistan under Taliban control, questions are swirling over how the group may govern after being out of power since 2001.
The Islamist militant organization rapidly overran Afghan territory as the U.S. and its allies withdrew their forces from the country, seizing Kabul and entering the presidential palace Sunday.
The Taliban’s reign from 1996-2001 was brutal, punctuated by extreme religious mandates, public executions and virtually no liberties for women and girls. Few who ruled in 2001 are either alive or in power, leaving uncertainty over how the group may govern today.
Here are some of the main leaders of the Taliban and what you need to know about them.
– Haibatullah Akhundzada
Haibatullah Akhundzada is the supreme leader of the Taliban. He came into power in 2016, after the group’s former leader, Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan.
A cleric who was once the Taliban’s top judge, Akhundzada fled to Pakistan in 2001, where he taught at religious schools before he rejoined to serve under Mansour.
He does not have much military experience, and since becoming the de facto leader of the Taliban has worked to bolster the group’s finances, in part through the narcotics trade, while also attempting to unify the group’s factions and consolidate power. It has been years since Akhundzada has appeared in public.
– Abdul Ghani Baradar
Abdul Ghani Baradar served as a negotiator for peace talks in Doha, Qatar, and is the organization’s top political leader. He is also one of the original founders of the Taliban. He was imprisoned in 2010 in Pakistan before being released in 2018 at the request of the U.S. government so that he could serve as the group’s leader in peace talks.
Baradar was intent on the withdrawal of U.S. troops, appearing to resist in March an attempt from the Biden administration to push back its departure date. The United States agreed to leave the country as a condition of a peace deal struck with the Taliban under former president Donald Trump.
Baradar spoke with Trump in 2020, after the signing of the deal, becoming the first Taliban leader to directly communicate with a U.S. president.
It was also Baradar who addressed Afghanistan on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
“We have reached a victory that wasn’t expected. . . . We should show humility in front of Allah,” Baradar said in a statement recorded in Doha. “Now it’s about how we serve and secure our people and ensure their future to the best of our ability.”
– Mohammad Yaqoob
Mohammad Yaqoob is the oldest son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar and heads the organization’s military. A relatively new face in the group, who swiftly rose to prominence after the death of his father in 2013, Yaqoob is considered by some experts to be a moderate member of the extremist group.
As the Taliban was making swift territorial gains last week, he urged fighters not to harm members of the Afghan military and government and to refrain from looting empty homes and to make sure marketplaces and shops kept functioning, according to the Associated Press.
– Sirajuddin Haqqani
Less moderate-minded may be Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of Jalaluddin Haqqani who founded the Haqqani network, an offshoot of the Taliban designated a terrorist group by the United States.
The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan made stamping out the network, known for its deadly bombings, a priority during its mission. But by 2017, the group had made a fearful return, amassing 5,000 fighters in southeastern Afghanistan, all commanded by Haqqani.
Haqqani both leads the network and serves as a deputy leader of the Taliban.
He is wanted for questioning by the FBI in a 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul that killed six people, including one American. The fighter made headlines last year when the New York Times published a column by him titled “What We, the Taliban, Want.” The newspaper was criticized for not properly informing readers of Haqqani’s history as the leader of a terrorist network.