Back With A Vengeance - The New Face Of The Taliban

Back With A Vengeance - The New Face Of The Taliban
By Hamid Mir

REDIFF, India -- Mullah Muhammad Anas is the unofficial ruler of
Afghanistan's Andore district.

The small but tough Taliban commander -- one of the 30 most wanted
fugitives in Afghanistan -- has made it impossible for US and NATO forces to
move freely in the district, the biggest in Ghazni province.

I managed to get his mobile number from a Taliban sympathiser who
stood in front of Sultan Mahmood Ghaznavi's tomb in the heart of Ghazni

Anas only understood my Assalam-o-Alliekum, because the Taliban
commander couldn't speak Urdu. I tried communicating in English, but failed.
Then, I used my broken Persian, and the deadlock was broken.

He was surprised that a Pakistani journalist was looking for the
Taliban in Ghazni. When I expressed my desire to meet him, he said I was
late because he was deep in the mountains of Andore and it would be
difficult for him to come to the city by evening.

So I decided to risk visiting him instead. He was happy, but made
just two small conditions: One, I would not travel in my Prado jeep with a
driver from Kabul. Two, I would have to take a taxi from Ghazni with any
local Pashtun driver. Needless to say, I accepted both.

I asked my driver to stay in the city and went to a taxi stand. Most
drivers were reluctant to go to Andore, saying it was late and it would be
difficult to return before sunset. One asked for double charges, and I
agreed. We settled on 1,000 Afghanis -- approximately $20.

We started travelling on the muddy Kabul-Kandahar road to Andore.
After a few kilometres, we were stopped by three armed Taliban near a
village. When they learnt I was a guest of their commander, they called
Mullah Anas to reconfirm, then welcomed us to the 'land of Taliban.' One of
them joined us as a guide.

An hour and a half later, I was sitting with Mullah Anas -- not in a
cave, but in a large muddy compound of a village teeming with armed

The first thing I asked him was : How could he trust an unknown
Pashtun taxi driver?

He smiled and looked towards the driver sitting next to me. "Local
Pashtuns don't betray us," he said. "We will note down his name and taxi
number. If he creates any problem for us, we will take care of him. But I am
sure he is a real Pashtun and will not commit treason."

I commented on the Taliban movement becoming more nationalist than
Islamic, considering it was now limited only to the Pashtun dominated areas
of Afghanistan. I mentioned Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, who
belonged to the Andore district but had not visited his home for a year
since Anas had taken over. Jalali had repeatedly accused Pakistan of
secretly providing training facilities to the Taliban. (Jalali resigned on
Tuesday due to the increasing violence).

Anas responded to the allegation by saying, simply, "You are sitting
with me in an Afghan village, not a Pakistani one. Ask Jalali to come here
if he can. Yes, we have the support of some Pakistani brothers, but
Pakistani rulers are our enemies. Musharraf is not different from Karzai.
Both are fighting on behalf of the Americans against us. How can a Pakistani
Karzai support us? This allegation is an insult."

One angry Taliban fighter shouted at me in broken English: "Frontier
Province (the North West Frontier Province) is not Pakistan. It is a Pashtun
area that was occupied by Farangis (England) one hundred years ago. If we go
to the Pashtun areas of Peshawar, it is not Pakistan, it is Afghanistan."

His comments were like a bombshell for me. Because just four years
ago, it was the Taliban that confronted nationalist Pashtuns who opposed the
Durand line that divided Afghanistan from united India more than a century

This was a new face of the Taliban, but Anas tried to hide it.
"Don't say these things in the presence of a Pakistani guest," he told his

Anas tried to explain his colleague's anger, saying "We were
betrayed by Pakistani rulers after 9/11, which is why a lot of Taliban have
developed bad feelings against the Punjabis of Pakistan."

I tried correcting him by saying that Musharraf is not a Punjabi,
but Anas said, "(Lieutenant General) Safdar Hussein is a Punjabi responsible
for fighting against our Mahsud and Wazir brothers in South and North
Wazirastan, on the orders of Musharraf."

After serving us Afghani tea, Anas then invited us to film his
attack on a US military convoy after two hours. We declined politely. I was
aware that US convoys didn't move in that area without air cover. The
Taliban would kill three or four US soldiers, but would lose more of their
own men to the air bombing that would ensue.

The commander then made me another offer. He said, "You can choose a
CD of our previous attacks on Americans then." I accepted.

Within minutes, he loaded a CD to a small laptop, showing me how
they destroyed a US Humvee with a roadside bomb a few days ago. He pointed
his finger towards a young boy standing behind him saying, "Brother Qadir
filmed that ambush with his Sony movie camera."

The Taliban banned cameras when they were in power. Now, they appear
to have amended their ideology. In Islamic Shariah, this amendment is called
Ijtahad. Today, the Taliban are waging their Jihad with Ijtahad. They banned
photography and television sets in Afghanistan after taking over Kabul in
1996. Now, they want to use cameras and television as a new weapon in a
propaganda war against their enemy.

When I asked why the Taliban were fighting against Afghanistan
President Hamid Karzai on one hand and talking to him on the other, Anas
grinned. "Talk to Mufti Hakimisahib about it. I am not entitled to speak on
such a big issue."

He gave me Hakimi's satellite phone number. He picked it up after 12
rings. Hakimi was shocked to hear I was sitting with Mullah Anas. He asked
me to leave immediately because he was aware of the planned attack on the
Americans. "They will make this area hell in a few hours," he screamed. "Go
away, go away."

We fled in panic. An hour later, Hakimi called to check if I was
back in Ghazni. I told him I would reach in half an hour. Warning me against
visiting 'independent' areas without informing him in advance, he said: "The
Americans can kill you and throw the responsibility on our shoulders."

After a few minutes, we were stopped by a big group of Afghan
National Army soldiers near the city. The Pashtun taxi driver explained that
he had some Pakistani journalists who were visiting some election candidates
in nearby villages. The soldiers checked our IDs and let us go. But not
before warning that "this area is not safe. You shouldn't come here again
without a police escort."

I thanked the driver, who replied, "I lie to both Taliban and the
security forces every day just in the interest of a safe drive." In broken
Urdu, he explained that he liked neither the Taliban, nor Karzai or the
Americans. But he couldn't fight them as both parties were very strong. It
was only the common Afghans who were suffering, he said.

I returned to Kabul late that night and had dinner at Delhi Darbar,
a restaurant owned by an Indian. There, I met a local Newsweek reporter
called Sami Yousafzai, who had also met a Taliban commander in Zabul earlier
that day. He suggested I visit Kunar, where Al Qaeda had recently downed a
US helicopter. Apparently, CDs of the operation were available at shops in
Asadabad city.

Over the next eight days, I visited at least a dozen provinces in
East and South Afghanistan. I realized that Hamid Karzai ruled only the big
cities. The rest of the rural and mountainous areas were controlled by
Taliban, Al Qaeda and, in some places, by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's
Hizb-e-Islami. Karzai has tried to engage the Taliban through many people,
but they are not interested in talks. They are exploiting the wave of
anti-Americanism that mushroomed after reports of the desecration of a Quran
by American troops.

There are just 18,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan, compared to
more than 150,000 in Iraq. It is just not enough for establishing Karzai's
writ in the 2,000-kilometre long Pashtun belt, bordering Pakistan.

Anti-Taliban forces like the Northern Alliance are also against the
presence of US troops in Afghanistan. Fearing that the presence of US troops
will come under fire in Afghanistan's new parliament, Karzai has urged
foreign troops to avoid house-to-house search operations without his

The most disturbing thing for Karzai is the beginning of suicide
attacks by the Taliban against the security forces. According to Interior
Ministry official Lutafullah Mashal, some Arabs from Iraq are providing
training to Taliban fighters in Kunar and Nuristan for bomb making. The
Taliban have killed more than 325 Afghan police officers in the last six

The number of foreign troop causalities is limited because they
don't go after the Taliban in remote areas. Mashal said the Taliban dumped a
lot of weapons when they were in power, and were now buying weapons from
local warlords and also across the border from Pakistani tribes. He also
claimed that the Taliban were in possession of SAM missiles of Russian and
Chinese origin, which they are getting from Iraqi Kurdistan at $2,500 each.
Mashal recently arrested some smugglers in Nimroz who smuggled weapons from
Iraqi Kurdistan through Iran.

Where is the money coming from?

Mashal smiled intriguingly. "They have some sympathisers in
Pakistan," he said, "but it is mainly Al Qaeda using them against us because
they want to make Afghanistan another Iraq."

I asked him how Taliban spokesman Mufti Hakimi was speaking to the
Associated Press daily and yet avoided capture by the Americans. Mashal
responded saying that Hakimi was clever. He was using at least eight
different numbers, ten local mobile numbers and some Pakistani mobile
numbers. He used one number for 10 to 15 minutes before switching to
another, foiling all attempts to track him. "We will get him very soon
though," he claimed.

Most diplomats in Kabul believe the Taliban are getting stronger by
the day, and returning with a vengeance. More than 1,300 people have died in
insurgent violence already, making 2005 by far the bloodiest year since the
overthrow of the Taliban government in November 2001. Afghanistan is a new
Iraq in the making.

Taliban experts like Ahmad Rashid say Karzai has failed to control
corruption and the warlords, and these two problems have forced common
Afghanis to think that at least the Taliban gave them peace, which has now
becoming a dream.

Ahmad Rashid is a close friend of Karzai, and this was the first
time I heard him criticise the Afghan president.

"Karzai is missing a great chance to stabilise Afghanistan," he
said. "He is not informing the outside world that the West is not hunting Al
Qaeda here in Afghanistan. There has been no Osama hunting for a long time
either. They are only increasing their influence in border areas close to

Afghan journalist Sami Yousafzai noted that the former Communists
and Taliban were the poor people, while the rest of the politicians are
former Mujahideen who minted money during the war against the Soviet Union.
These Mujahideen are said to be Karzai's biggest allies. In reality,
however, they are warlords. They were not debarred from the elections
despite running large armed militias.

The new ruling elite of Afghanistan are rich. The people are poor,
and have no love for the elite. In some areas like Khost, the Taliban didn't
created problems for ex-Communist candidates, but threatened ex-Mujahideen
from the richer class.

It is another dimension to the new Taliban. They are now class

Pakistani journalist and rediff India Abroad contributor Hamid Mir
works for Dubai-based Geo TV and recently spent ten days in Afghanistan


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