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Afghanistan’s new interim defence minister, an ex-Guantanamo detainee, maybe close to Iran

Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, an ex-Guantanamo detainee, is the new Interim Defence Minister of Afghanistan

Ex-Guantanamo detainee Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir alias Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul is the new Interim Defence Minister of Afghanistan under the new Taliban regime.

Zakir is deputy to Taliban’s commander-in-chief, Mullah Yaqoob, son of the founder of the group Mullah Omar. It is said that it was Mullah Yakub who appointed him, his right-hand man for the post of interim defence minister.

According to Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwari, Zakir is friends with Iran's Esmail Qaani, the head of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), who had replaced the legendary Qassem Soleimani, who was, last year,  killed in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport. Zakir has apparently received some of the country's 'most sophisticated weapons systems' in the past. Zakir is also said to have been a vehement opponent of peace talks, which took place between the Taliban and the Afghan government before Kabul’s takeover by the group on August 15.  

When Kabul fell to the insurgent group, it was Zakir who led the first team of Taliban’s fighters inside the Presidential palace. But  by that time President Ashraf Ghani had already left the country. Zakir was seen sitting inside the Palace with his armed fighters.


Twenty years ago, when he was captured in 2001, Zakir was the new deputy chief of the Taliban and was then known as Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul. He was Prisoner No 8 in Guantanamo detention centre. Zakir  was then transferred to Afghanistan six years later in December of 2007 and after two years he was inexplicably  released by the then Afghan President Hamid Karzai.   After he was free, Zakir  returned to the ranks of the Taliban, and directed military operations in the Afghan province of Helmand, before becoming the general military commander of the group.

He is believed now to be a deputy to reclusive Taliban supremo Mullah Omar  a position he assumed after the arrest of Mullah Baradar and a number of other Taliban leaders. Pakistani intelligence agents arrested Zakir and another Taliban commander Sadr Ibrahim in early 2010, but both were later released without explanation.

According to US intelligence Zakir is a highly ideological fighter, in contrast to some Taliban loyalists who may have fought mainly for material gain. During the Taliban's previous regime, he fought against the opposing Northern Alliance  led by the legendary Lion of Panjshir Ahmad Shah Massoud  who was assassinated just before the 9/11 attacks. In 2001 Zakir  surrendered to Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord,  who handed him over to the US.

Now as a defence minister, Zakir will have to fight Ahmad Shah Massoud’s son Ahmad Massoud who, like his father, is opposing Taliban’s  regime.

Taliban’s top leadership also appointed  Sadr Ibrahim as the acting Interior Minister, who was earlier looking after the group’s military till Mullah Yaqoob became the chief. Like Zakir, Ibrahim Sadr also  opposed peace efforts. Sadr, who has close links to neighbouring Iran, was among eight Taliban members designated as global terrorists by the US. 

In other appointments made by the Taliban, Gul Agha will act as  the interim Finance Minister, while Najibullah will be the interim head of intelligence. Additionally, the Taliban appointed their trusted men to the posts of ministers of education, higher education and to the post of governor of Kabul. According to Foreign Policy, the Taliban intend to form a council to govern Afghanistan which will consist of 12 people, including some members of the country’s previous government.

Even though Mullah Baradar is at the top, there will be a more collective leadership in place, instead of one person making all the decisions like before. 

Also Read: Will Taliban 2.0 fulfill its promise of an inclusive government?