Is Kahil Nasir Based on a Real ISI Agent? Is Ismail Rabbani Based on a Real Tajik Warlord?

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh, ‘Kandahar’ is an action thriller film that stars Gerard Butler and Navid Negahban in central roles alongside Ali Fazal. Tom Harris, a covert CIA Operative, sets out on a mission to Afghanistan backed by his local Afghan translator, Mohammad “Mo” Doud. However, the fallout from his previous mission soon follows when his identity and mission details are leaked to the public. As a result, several deadly personalities from the Taliban, the Iranian government, and the ISI chase after him and his companion through the heart of Afghanistan.

Ali Fazal’s character Kahil Nasir, the ISI Operative after Tom and Mo, forms the film’s primary antagonist. Kahil holds a significant position in the political nucleus of several countries. Consequently, viewers might be wondering about his connections to real life. Similarly, fans might also be curious to know if Ismail Rabbani is a real warlord of the area, as presented in the film. Therefore here is everything you need to know about Kahil and Ismail from ‘Kandahar’ and their origins.

Are Kahil Nasir and Ismail Rabbani Based on Real People?

No, neither Kahil Nasir nor Ismail Rabbani are based on real people. Nevertheless, since writer Mitchell LaFortune based ‘Kandahar’ on his own life as a former military man, he most likely took inspiration for both Kahil and Ismail from people he encountered in real life. During his deployments to Afghanistan, LaFortune worked with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Due to the same, he probably came across his fair share of ISI officials and had a proper understanding of the crime scene in the country.

Still, there isn’t a Tajik warlord in real life named Ismail Rabbani that could be a basis for Ray Haratian’s character in ‘Kandahar.’ However, warlords have a long history in Tajik and tend to be highly influential with power and control over their areas. As such, warlords are a fairly common occurrence in the Tajik region. In the film, Ismail comes across as a man who plays only for himself and is open to working with the highest bidder, irrelevant of which side they’re from. Introduced as Tom’s contact and later revealed to have a connection to Mo’s tragic past, Ismail has links to both the CIA and the Taliban.

According to a Washington Post article about The Afghanistan Papers, the CIA often made deals with warlords and other local criminals during their time in Afghanistan. Likewise, depending on the gang, warlords are also known to have affiliations with the Taliban. Due to the same, Ismail Rabbani may have some ties to reality. Nevertheless, the filmmakers have not shared information about the same yet.

As for Kahil Nasir, his authenticity stems from well-thought-out writing as much as it does from LaFortune’s real-life experiences. Narratively, Kahil acts as the character foil to Tom. When talking about Nasir’s character, director Ric Roman Waugh said, “We wanted Kahil to be the mirror of Tom, someone who lives in isolation and doesn’t know his family and is addicted to war. His [Tom’s] counterpart [Kahil] has to live the same way, but he doesn’t want that anymore.”

Therefore by adding depth to Kahil’s character and building upon his storyline, the narrative provides a fresh take on an ISI officer that can be rare to find in Hollywood movies. “We wanted the hunter and the hunted to be mirrors, but also specific to each man’s culture — not Westernizing Kahil too much but showing what a young Pakistani would be like versus a man like Tom from our Western world,” Said Waugh while in conversation with Salon.

In the same vein, actor Ali Fazal also shared his perception of Kahil’s character, “[And when I got this part,] I think the one thing that was very interesting about Kahil – the part that I’m playing – is that there was something very human that is still left of him, in a land that we all know – geopolitically, politically – is the center for so many ideologies that come together and end up just doing business.”

As such, a significant part of Kahil’s relatability and authenticity as a character is his ties to his culture and the details that humanize him. Even though neither Kahil Nasir nor Ismail Rabbani is based on actual known people, it is clear that the writer has an experienced understanding and reference of their characters. The same shows up through each character’s depiction in ‘Kandahar.’

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