Abdul Salam Zaeef

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Abdul Salam Zaeef
الحاج ملا عبدالسلام ضعيف
Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan
In office
Personal details
Born1967 (age 53–54)
Kandahar, Afghanistan
Political partyIslamic and National Revolution Movement of Afghanistan

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef (/ˈæbdʊl səˈlɑːm zɑːˈf/ (About this soundlisten); born 1967 in Kandahar) was the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan before the US invasion of Afghanistan.[1]

He was detained in Pakistan in the fall of 2001 and held until 2005 in the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp.[1] The United Nations removed Zaeef from its list of terrorists in July 2010.[2]

Early activity[edit]

Zaeef was born in 1967 to a poor family in the small village of Zangiabad in Kandahar of southern Afghanistan and received a basic religious education years before the Soviet invasion.[3] He was barely one-year old when he lost his mother. His uncle, Mullah Nezam, was accused of killing 16 people in a tribal feud and was later killed by government forces. He fled from Kandahar to a refugee camp in Nushki, Balochistan, Pakistan when he was about 10 years old along with much of the rest of the population (and relatives) after the Soviet invasion and later joined the mujahedeen in 1983 to fight alongside senior commanders. During the war, he was ambushed nine times and injured twice. In an attack on Kandahar Airport in 1988, he lost fifty of the fifty-eight men under his command.[4] By the time Soviet soldiers withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, he was a junior commander in the Mujahedeen. After the withdrawal, he worked as a laborer in a village and later a mullah.[5]

Capture and detention[edit]

Following the U.S. invasion, Zaeef was forced to end his news conferences, seized by Pakistani authorities, and handed over to American operatives.[1] The Pajhwok Afghan News reported that Zaeef was freed from Guantanamo Bay.[6]


Zaeef was released from Guantanamo in the summer of 2005.[7]

In an article in the Daily Times on 18 September 2005, Zaeef is quoted as saying that his release was "due to the effort of some friends".[8] He did not attribute his release to his Combatant Status Review Tribunal or his 2005 Administrative Review Board hearing. He described the actions of these two bodies as illegal.

Zaeef claims he was chained in illegal "stress positions" and subjected to sleep deprivation and extremes of temperature while held in the USA's Bagram Theater Detention Facility.[9]

Recent events[edit]

Call for a unity government: On 12 April 2007, Zaeef stirred controversy by calling for a unity-government in Afghanistan.[9]

On Friday, 6 June 2008, The Guardian published excerpts from an interview with Zaeef. It reported he claimed negotiations with the Taliban was the key to peace and that he argued that the presence of foreign troops eroded the authority of the central government:[10]

"As long as the foreign troops are here, negotiations with the government will be difficult."

Move to Kabul: An article in Der Spiegel on 12 April 2007 reported that Zaeef had moved into a "...handsome guest house, located in the dusty modern neighborhood Khoshal Khan."[9] The article in Der Spiegel goes on to state that the new home Karzai's government has provided Zaeef is around the corner from one occupied by former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil. Der Spiegel described Zaeef's home as being guarded, inside and out, by a heavily armed security detail. Der Spiegel described both Zaeef and Muttawakil as regarded as among the more moderate former members of the Taliban.

Zaeef told the Chicago Tribune that Afghan security officials would not allow him to attend the mosque near his Kabul home.[11]

"There is a mosque near my house. The government told me, 'Please don't go to the mosque', for my security. If I can't go to the mosque, how can I work?"

McClatchy interview: On 15 June 2008, the McClatchy News Service published articles based on interviews with 66 former Guantanamo captives, including Abdul Salam Zaeef.[12][13] The McClatchy reports state that guards told him he was the "King of the prison", and that he took a lead role in the Guantanamo hunger strikes. They also state that guards in the Kandahar detention facility made him pointlessly move human excrement back and forth.

Saudi peace talks: Zaeef acknowledged being invited by Saudi King Abdullah to unofficially meet with other leading Afghan figures from the Karzai government, the Taliban, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami and other former members of the Taliban.[14][15] Zaeef denied this meeting should be characterized as "peace talks" and stated that none of the individuals at this meeting had been authorized to conduct negotiations. Zaeef denied anyone discussed Afghanistan at this meeting. According to The Age, other figures who attended the meeting included former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazel Hadi Shinwari.[14]

Lawsuit: In October 2008, Zaeef said he would sue Pakistan for his arrest there in 2002.[16]

Flees harassment by US Forces: On 9 April 2012, Al Jazeera reported that Zaeef had fled for his life.[17][18]

He fled to the United Arab Emirates. Al Jazeera quoted associates close to Zaeef who described repeated US attempts by US forces to raid Zaeef's house and seize him. Zaeef had been in protective custody by the Afghan government since his release from Guantanamo. Quoting Al Jazeera's Waheed Muzhda:

"Zaeef feared for his life in the wake of the attempted raids on his home. Many of the Taliban prisoners freed from Guantanamo had been killed in night raids and that made Zaeef more nervous."[This quote needs a citation]

THiNK 2013: In 2013, Mullah Zaeef met with Robert Grenier at a conference in which they discussed the invasion and the general positions of the Taliban government and the United States.[19]


Zaeef released a book in the Pashto language, "A Picture of Guantanamo," detailing his mistreatment at Guantanamo.[20]

In October 2008, Abdul Salam Zaeef edited in Paris with the French journalist Jean-Michel Caradec'h, a recent book: "Prisonnier à Guantanamo". EGDV/Documents. 2008.[21]

In January 2010, an English translation of Abdul Salam Zaeef's autobiography was published, My Life with the Taliban.[22][23] The book has been reviewed positively as offering a powerful look into what "drives" the Taliban.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Abdul Salam Zaeef (2010). "Torture and Abuse on the USS Bataan and in Bagram and Kandahar: An Excerpt from "My Life with the Taliban" by Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef". Archived from the original on 28 August 2011. We were not permitted to talk to each other, but could see one another while the food was handed to us. I eventually saw that Mullahs Fazal, Noori, Burhan, Wasseeq Sahib and Rohani were all among the other prisoners, but still we could not talk to each other.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 16 April 2011. Retrieved 2010-07-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Felix Kuehn, Alex Strick van Linschoten (23 August 2012). An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan. Oxford University Press. p. 481. ISBN 9780199977239.
  4. ^ Fergusson, James (30 September 2010). Taliban. Random House. p. 12. ISBN 9781407096346.
  5. ^ "A review of Zaeef's Autobiography: My Life With Taliban".
  6. ^ Taliban ambassador Zaeef freed from Guantanamo Bay[permanent dead link], Pajhwok Afghan News
  7. ^ Behroz Khan (13 September 2005). "Ex-Taliban envoy released from Guantanamo Bay". Archived from the original on 15 December 2005. Retrieved 2 July 2007.
  8. ^ No law at Guantanamo Bay prison, says Zaeef Archived 2 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Daily Times, 18 September 2005
  9. ^ a b c Olaf Ihlau (12 April 2007). "Ex-Taliban Official Calls for Unity Government in Afghanistan". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 1 July 2007.
  10. ^ Nushin Arbabzadah (6 June 2008). "Talking to the Taliban: Afghan politicians increasingly believe negotiations with the ousted Taliban regime are the key to peace". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 June 2008.
  11. ^ Kim Barker (4 March 2009). "Ex-Guantanamo Bay detainees fighting to fit in and feeling the pull to join the Taliban or Al Qaeda". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on 9 March 2009. Retrieved 4 March 2009.
  12. ^ Tom Lasseter (15 June 2008). "Guantanamo Inmate Database: Page 2". McClatchy News Service. Archived from the original on 14 July 2011. Retrieved 16 June 2008.
  13. ^ Tom Lasseter (18 June 2008). "U.S. hasn't apologized to or compensated ex-detainees". Myrtle Beach Sun. Archived from the original on 19 June 2008. Retrieved 18 June 2008.
  14. ^ a b "Taliban and Afghan officials break bread". The Age. 7 October 2008. Archived from the original on 25 March 2009. Retrieved 6 October 2008.
  15. ^ 24 Hours, "Taliban denies peace talks", 7 October 2008
  16. ^ "Taleban official to sue Pakistan". BBC News. 14 October 2008. Archived from the original on 17 October 2008. Retrieved 16 November 2008.
  17. ^ Qais Azimy, Mujib Mashal (9 April 2012). "Former Taliban leader flees for safety". Al Jazeera. Archived from the original on 9 April 2012. Retrieved 17 April 2012. Muzhda said Zaeef feared for his life in the wake of the attempted raids on his home. Many of the Taliban prisoners freed from Guantanamo had been killed in night raids and that made Zaeef more nervous.
  18. ^ Jason Ditz (9 April 2012). "Ex-Taliban Turned Negotiator Flees After US Raids: Zaeef Flees Kabul, Relocates in United Arab Emirates". Antiwar.com. Archived from the original on 13 April 2012. Retrieved 17 April 2012. Though the US has used Zaeef's help in setting up talks with the Taliban, Zaeef noted that the US has killed a number of former Gitmo detainees in the recent months, which has him convinced that he could well be next, and that he will be safer outside of its reach.
  19. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGHyK_E5EOg
  20. ^ Zeeshan Haider (30 July 2006). "Ex-Taliban Details Guantanamo 'Humiliation'". The Australian. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 3 July 2007.
  21. ^ Paris, France. ISBN 978-2-84267-945-3
  22. ^ Abdul Salam Zaeef, My Life With the Taliban (London: Hurst Publishers; New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2010).
  23. ^ Qurat ul ain Siddiqui (29 August 2010). "Alternative discourse". Dawn. Archived from the original on 1 September 2010. Retrieved 16 March 2010. In this scenario the autobiography of a senior former member of the Afghan Taliban, Abdul Salam Zaeef, attempts to fill part of the great void of original Afghan narratives that has impeded a more perceptive understanding of the conflict on the part of the international observer.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  24. ^ Ryan Shaffer (October 2010). "A Review of: "Abdul Salam Zaeef. My Life With the Taliban (ed. and tran. Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn)."". Terrorism and Political Violence, Volume 22, Issue 4. pp. 664–667.

External links[edit]