Speculation intensified about the fate of the Deputy Leader of Afghanistan government, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, after Taliban leaders met with senior delegates from Qatar in Kabul on Sunday, with Baradar conspicuously absent from the meeting, Daily Mail reported.
On Monday, the Taliban were forced to deny that Mullah Baradar is dead after rumours emerged that he was killed during a gunfight with his political rivals.
The Taliban insisted that Baradar is in Kandahar province, meeting with the group’s supreme leader Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada to discuss the country’s future now that the US troops have withdrawn.
But the social media rumour-mill believes he was actually killed in a gun battle in Kabul’s presidential palace on Friday that broke out during a meeting with the powerful and ruthless Haqqani family, the report said.
Three members of the Haqqani family were at the summit with Qatar delegates along with other members of the new Afghan government – led by Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund, the report said.
Baradar is one of the Taliban’s founding members and had served as deputy to its first supreme leader Mullah Omar, who died in 2013 from tuberculosis.
After Omar’s death, Baradar took over as leader of the political wing of the Taliban and is one of the group’s senior most figures.
But he is thought to be in conflict with the Haqqani family, leaders of the fearsome Haqqani Network which is affiliated to the Taliban but also has links to terror groups opposed to the Islamists, such as ISIS-K.
Two members of the clan – Sirajuddin and Khalil – now hold senior positions in the new government, taking the roles of Interior Minister and Refugee Minister, respectively.
Anna Haqqani also holds a role as a high-level negotiator, and was present during the meeting with Qatari diplomats.
Rumours about Baradar’s safety began circulating last week when the Taliban announced its new government and named him as Deputy Prime Minister, despite the widespread belief that he would take the top job.
That led to speculation that he had been demoted due to the in-fighting between Taliban founding members and the Haqqani Network — a powerful faction of the Taliban whose family members secured top positions in the new administration, the report said.