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Taliban’s New Chief Negotiator: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar

Baradar was released from a prison in Pakistan last October at the insistence of Zalmay Khalilzad.

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Taliban
An Afghan student waves a white Taliban flag at a rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Oct. 25, 2014. VOA

As peace talks between the United States and Afghan Taliban enter a crucial stage, the Taliban leadership has announced a new chief negotiator, a man named Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.

According to a statement issued Thursday night by Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, the action is intended to “strengthen and properly handle” the ongoing dialogue.

The change has signaled to many that the negotiations have progressed beyond any contact between the two sides in the past. Here is a look at why.

Who is Mullah Baradar?

Baradar, also known as Mullah Baradar Akhund, is one of the founding members of the Taliban movement. He was present in its first meeting headed by Taliban chief Mullah Omar in the autumn of 1994, in a village in Maiwand district of Kandahar province.

Taliban
In this undated image released by the FBI, Mullah Omar is seen in a wanted poster. VOA

Known primarily as a military man and an astute commander, Baradar was sent to what was considered the most difficult places. As the Taliban solidified and expanded its hold on Afghanistan in the mid- to late 1990s, Baradar held many important posts in the government, fighting on various fronts. He became the governor of Herat at a time when fighting was fierce.

As a trusted companion of Mullah Omar, Baradar was third in line in the Taliban hierarchy. The second in line, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, later died in a prison in Pakistan.

“He was always there. He was in every important meeting,” said journalist Rahimullah Yousufzai, who has covered the region for decades.

When the Taliban government fell in 2001, Baradar was the deputy minister of defense. He was immediately listed as one of the top Taliban commanders on a U.N. Security Council sanctions list. Out of power and on the run, he continued to serve in important roles in the organization. After Obaidullah Akhund was taken into custody, Baradar took over as head of the Taliban Supreme Council, also known as Quetta Shura.

Mullah Akhtar Monsour, the man who became the head of the Taliban after Mullah Omar died, was previously a deputy to Baradar, according to the U.N. records.

Taliban
Mullah Akhtar Monsour, leader of the Afghan Taliban, is seen in this undated handout photo from the Taliban. VOA

“If he [Baradar] was not in custody, I think he would have been the leader after Mullah Omar died,” Yousufzai said, adding that in many ways, he is considered as important as the current chief Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada. Akhundzada has also appointed him his deputy for political affairs.

Baradar was taken into custody in 2010 from Karachi in a joint raid by Pakistani and American security operatives.

“At the time of his arrest, he was the effective No. 2 in the movement and the de facto operational chief of the insurgency,” wrote Kate Klark in her piece for the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a Kabul-based research organization.

“His wife is Mullah Omar’s sister. He controlled the money. He was launching some of the deadliest attacks against our security forces,” an Afghan official who did not want to be named told the BBC at the time of Baradar’s arrest.

According to United Nations Security Council documents, Baradar was born in 1968 in Yatimak village, Dehrawood district, Uruzgan province, Afghanistan. He was part of the Popalzai branch of the Durrani tribe, the same as former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Taliban, afghanistan, pakistan, U.S.
Members of Taliban delegation take their seats during the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Nov. 9, 2018. VOA

What difference does he make?

The appointment of Baradar as the chief negotiator will likely bring additional credibility to the negotiation process and assuage any concerns of the Taliban cadre fighting on the ground, according to people who watch the region closely.

“Someone who is from Kandahar or southern Afghanistan usually gets importance among the Taliban. Secondly, they have more credibility. If you want to get the political process more acceptance among the cadre on the ground, it’s helpful,” said Tahir Khan, a journalist who has sources among the Taliban.

Baradar was released from a prison in Pakistan last October at the insistence of Zalmay Khalilzad, the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation who is leading the negotiations from the American side.

Also Read: Afghanistan Elections Conclude, IEC Criticized For Mismanagement

“When they started talking to Taliban, the Taliban raised this issue whenever there was any contact with the Americans,” Yousufzai said.

On one hand, the Americans wanted to facilitate the Taliban to move the process forward. On the other hand, they also wanted the Taliban’s Qatar office to be empowered to make decisions. They wanted to “negotiate with the most important people among the Taliban,” according to Yousufzai. Baradar’s release fulfilled that dual purpose. (VOA)

Next Story

New Rule in USA to Allow Passengers to Bring Pet Animals on Flight

New Rules Could Bump Emotional-Support Animals From Planes

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Animals
Airlines can now let passengers bring other animals on board, but hefty fees would apply. Pixabay

The days of passengers bringing rabbits, turtles and birds on planes as emotional-support animals could be ending.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday proposed that only specially trained dogs qualify as service animals, which must be allowed in the cabin at no charge. Airlines could let passengers bring other animals on board, but hefty fees would apply.

Airlines say the number of support animals has been growing dramatically in recent years, and they have lobbied to tighten the rules. They also imposed their own restrictions in response to passengers who show up at the airport with pigs, pheasants, turkeys, snakes and other unusual pets.

“This is a wonderful step in the right direction for people like myself who are dependent on and reliant on legitimate service animals that perform a task to mitigate our disability,” said Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, which advocates for accessibility for people of different ability levels.

Animals
Airlines say the number of support animals has been growing dramatically in recent years, and they have lobbied to tighten the rules. Pixabay

Tighter rules praised

The U.S. airline industry trade group praised the tighter rules. Industry officials believe that hundreds of thousands of passengers scam the system each year by claiming they need their pet for emotional support. Those people avoid airline pet fees, which are generally more than $100 each way.

“Airlines want all passengers and crew to have a safe and comfortable flying experience, and we are confident the proposed rule will go a long way in ensuring a safer and healthier experience for everyone,” said Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America.

Flight attendants had pushed to rein in support animals, too, and were pleased with Wednesday’s proposed changes.

“The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. The union chief said untrained pets had hurt some of her members.

Veterans groups pleased

Veterans groups have sided with the airlines, arguing that a boom in untrained dogs and other animals threatens their ability to fly with properly trained service dogs. Last year, more than 80 veterans and disability groups endorsed banning untrained emotional-support animals in airline cabins.

“It’s just interesting how people want to have the benefits of having a disability without actually losing the use of their limbs or senses just so they can take their pet with them,” Rizzi said.

Southwest Airlines handles more than 190,000 emotional support animals per year. American Airlines carried 155,790 emotional support animals in 2017, up 48% from 2016, while the number of checked pets dropped 17%. United Airlines carried 76,000 comfort animals in 2017.

Department officials said in a briefing with reporters that they are proposing the changes to ensure safety on flights. They also said some passengers have abused the current rules.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed changes, and they could take effect any time after that.

The Transportation Department proposes a narrow definition of a service animal — it would be a dog that is trained to help a person with a physical or other disability. Passengers who want to travel with a service dog will have to fill out a federal form on which they swear that the dog is trained to help them with their disability. A dog that is trained to help a passenger with psychiatric needs would continue to qualify as a service animal.

Animals on Planes
Oscar the cat, who is not a service animal, sits in his carry on travel bag after arriving at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. VOA

Note from medical professional

Currently, passengers have been allowed to bring many other animals if they have a medical professional’s note saying they need the animal for emotional support.

The proposal would prohibit airlines from banning particular types of dog breeds — Delta Air Lines bans pit bulls, for example — but airline employees could refuse to board any animal that they consider a threat to other people.

The president of the Humane Society of the United States said airlines had “maligned” pit bulls by banning them. Kitty Block said the Transportation Department’s rule against breed-specific prohibitions “sends a clear message to airlines that their discriminatory practices are not only unsound, but against the law.”

The new rules would also bar the current practice by many airlines of requiring animal owners to fill out paperwork 48 hours in advance. A department official said that practice can harm disabled people by preventing them from bringing their service dog on last-minute trips. But airlines could still require forms attesting to an animal’s good behavior and health, which could present challenges if the form has to be completed by a specific institution, Rizzi said.

Also Read- Spain Takes a Step Forward to Combat Climate Change

The proposal also says people with service animals must check in earlier than the general public, and would end the rarely seen use of miniature horses as service animals, although a Transportation Department official indicated the agency is open to reconsidering that provision.

Airlines could require that service animals be on a leash or harness and fit in its handler’s foot space. They could limit passengers to two service animals each, although it is unclear how often that happens under the current rules. (VOA)