Mullah Raouf became the commander for the Taliban's Central Corps, and Zakir was one of his key deputies.
Zakir commanded an important reserve brigade of more than 1,000 soldiers that operated out of the current presidential palace. It was heavily involved in the fight against the opposing Northern Alliance, an assemblage of warlords led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was assassinated just before the 9/11 attacks.
Born Abdul Qayyum, his nom de guerre on the Taliban's walkie-talkie network was "Zakir," a name that stuck as stories of his military prowess grew. He became known as a skilled tactician, more than once rescuing surrounded Taliban troops using audacious moves behind enemy lines.
"He was a legendary battlefield commander," recalls Mullah Abdul Salaam Rocketi, a former Taliban commander and now a member of parliament. "His fame brought him to the attention of Mullah Omar, and the two became close over time."
Zakir's troops, known as the Helmandi Brigade, inspired fear across the country. The brigade acted as a Taliban special forces of sorts, used for daring raids and to keep the conventional troops focused on the demands of battle.
"They were true believers," says Gul Wazir, a Taliban commander who has been fighting since that era. "Sometimes when the fighting became too difficult and people on the front lines wanted to flee, they would capture us and bring us back to the front lines."
Driven by ideology