The Taliban have been forced to deny that Deputy Leader Mullah Baradar is dead after wild rumors circulated that he was killed in a firefight with his political rivals.
The Taliban today urged Baradar in Kandahar province to meet with the group’s supreme leader, Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, to discuss the future of Afghanistan after the US’s withdrawal.
But social media rumor believes he was killed Friday in a gunfight at Kabul’s presidential palace that erupted during a meeting with the powerful and ruthless Haqqani family.
The Taliban have so far produced a handwritten note and an audio recording as proof that Baradar is still alive – which has only fueled speculation.
The Taliban have been forced to deny wild rumors that Deputy Leader Mullah Baradar was shot dead last week during a clash in Kabul (pictured, Taliban guards in Kabul)
Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem released the audio recording Monday.
In it, a man claiming to be Baradar accuses “media propagandists” of spreading false rumors about him – insisting that “I and all my colleagues are fine.”
“There was news in the media about my death,” Baradar said in the clip.
‘I’ve been traveling for the past few nights. Wherever I am right now, all is well with us, all my brothers and friends.
The only evidence the Taliban has produced is a handwritten note (pictured) and an audio recording, which sparked more rumours.
‘Media always publish fake propaganda. So boldly reject all those lies, and I assure you 100 percent that there is no problem and we have no problem.’
The recording was posted hours after a handwritten note was also circulated on Twitter stating that Baradar is still alive.
The note – which was not signed by Baradar but by a deputy, Mawlawi Musa Kaleem – denied that there had been a gunfight at the palace and said that Baradar is in Kandahar.
Muhammad Suhail Shaheen, one of the top spokespersons for the group based in Kabul, also dismissed the rumours.
“Reports about Mullah Baradar Akhund being injured or killed are unfounded and untrue, I categorically refute them,” he said.
Rumors of Baradar’s security began circulating last week when the Taliban announced their new government and named him deputy prime minister, despite widespread belief that he would take the top job.
That led to speculation that he had been demoted due to infighting between the Taliban’s founders and the Haqqani Network – a powerful faction of the Taliban whose relatives have secured top positions in the new government.
Speculation about Baradar’s health was heated over the weekend after he was absent from a high-level summit with Qatar (pictured), amid reports of political clashes
Speculation mounted as Taliban leaders met with senior officials from Qatar in Kabul on Sunday, with Baradar conspicuously absent from the meeting.
Three members of the Haqqani family were at the summit along with other members of the new Afghan government – led by Prime Minister Mohammad Hasan Akhund.
Baradar is one of the founding members of the Taliban and served as a deputy to the first Supreme Leader Mullah Omar, who died of tuberculosis in 2013.
After Omar’s death, Baradar took charge of the Taliban’s political wing and is one of the group’s senior figures.
But he is said to be in conflict with the Haqqani family, leaders of the fearsome Haqqani network that is affiliated with the Taliban but also linked to terror groups that oppose the Islamists – such as ISIS-K.
Two members of the clan – Sirajuddin and Khalil – now hold senior positions in the new government, taking on the roles of Home Secretary and Refugees Minister.
Anna Haqqani also fulfills a role as a high-level negotiator and was present during the meeting with Qatari diplomats.
Baradar, one of the Taliban’s founders (file image), has only been seen in public a handful of times since he returned to Afghanistan last month
Further fueling the rumors is the fact that the Taliban previously covered up the death of leader Mullah Omar for two years.
It was only after Afghan intelligence revealed his death in 2015 that the Taliban publicly confirmed this.
The supreme leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, is also said to have died several years before the group recaptured Afghanistan.
Since then, Islamists have claimed that he is still alive and in the country – somewhere in Kandahar province.
Akhundzada rarely appears in public, which may explain why the Taliban were reluctant to release images of Baradar when the pair met.