Meet Team Taliban
Moreau, Ron, Yousafzai, Sami, Newsweek
Byline: Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai
By all accounts, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will be virtually impossible to replace. Until his recent capture in Karachi by U.S. and Pakistani forces, the Taliban's master strategist was working 18-hour days. Battle-hardened commanders fondly called him Big Father, and it was the Supreme Leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar himself, who nicknamed him Baradar--"brother" in the Pashto tongue--when they were teenagers fighting the Soviets side by side.
But if three decades of war have taught Afghans anything, it's how to improvise. Taliban commanders and intelligence operatives tell NEWSWEEK that, for now, Baradar's role is likely to be filled by a collective leadership of at least three top associates: Military Committee chief Abdul Qayum Zakir, central Afghanistan regional commander Mullah Mohammad Nasir, and Baradar's deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor. Each has different but complementary skills.
Short and corpulent, Mansoor cuts a deceptively comical figure: behind the affable exterior, he is a fiery jihadist. He joined the Taliban in 1995 and quickly won Mullah Omar's favor through his personal charm and his talents as an organizer and fighter. In 2001 he fled to Pakistan, where he recruited and equipped fighters to return to Afghanistan. Like Baradar, he's said to be patient, tolerant, and understanding in his dealings with tribal elders. …