Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Ex-Guantanamo Bay prisoner the next Afghan Taliban commander?
It is a measure of the shadowy nature of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan that it is hard to come up with even a couple of names of senior figures who could possibly succeed top commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader following his capture in a joint U.S.-Pakistan raid.
Such is the diffused leadership structure - more like a franchise down to the villages – that the only thing you can say for certain is that the Islamist movement is still led by the one-eyed Mullah Mohammad Omar, although according to reports he hasn’t been seen even by his own followers in the past three years.
It’s a risky business then to hazard a guess as I wrote in this story, but one of the names that is doing the rounds of the security blogs/newspapers is that of Abdul Qayum Zakir, a Taliban fighter from the 1990s who has spent time in Guantanamo Bay. His is an interesting story. He surrendered to U.S. and Afghan forces in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif as the regime was collapsing in 2001.
He spent the next several years in custody, was transferred to Guantanamo around 2006, then to Afghanistan government custody in late 2007, and was eventually released. It’s not clear why he was released but he lost no time in re-joining the insurgency. He quickly rose to take charge of the operations in the key provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan.
The Rand Corporation’s Seth Jones in a profile of Zakir last year said that American officials wouldn’t say why he was let go and wouldn’t release a photograph of him. In a memorandum prepared for his administrative review board at Guantanamo, Zakir apparently said he ”felt it would be fine to wage jihad against Americans, Jews, or Israelis if they were invading his country.”
Now as the Marines move through Helmand in the biggest offensive yet, they will be looking for Zakir, the operational foe. But then again it may not be him setting out the Taliban’s military strategy.
Singapore’s Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research said Mullah Mohammad Hassan, the shadow governor of Kandahar province, may well step into Barader’s shoes. Very little is known about Hassan, except that he fought during the Soviet jihad in the 1980s.