Since the last ten years, we have been told that the United States and its allies are fighting against Taliban, a force that represents Islamic extremism, is an enemy of women’s rights and education, harbours Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda and is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans and Afghans.
Very little does the world, including the US, know about them more than the above description. While meeting US President Barack Obama in June 2009, retired US General Stanley McChrystal labelled the struggle in Afghanistan as a “war of ideas” while adding that Afghanistan is a ‘deeds-based’ information environment where perceptions derive from actions. The origins of Taliban, ideas behind the movement and their side of the story hardly gets any mention in the US-controlled mainstream media.
“More than two weeks ago, I gave Taliban leaders a series of clear and specific demands: Close terrorist training camps; hand over leaders of the al Qaeda network; and return all foreign nationals, including American citizens, unjustly detained in your country. None of these demands were met. And now the Taliban will pay a price. By destroying camps and disrupting communications, we will make it more difficult for the terror network to train new recruits and coordinate their evil plans.”
Former US President George W Bush, 7 October, 2001
Contrary to the mainstream belief about links with CIA and ISI, Taliban originated in Kandahar in 1994 when the region was under the control of different warlords, commanders and bandits who established illegal checkposts in different neighbourhoods where they looted civilians and raped women at will.
The law and order situation completely broke down when the Soviet troops left the country in 1989 and former mujahideen turned their guns at each other. Influential people of Kandahar formed a group to expel notorious warlords from the area and not let the struggle against the Communists go in vain. Dozens of former mujahideen swore allegiance to Mullah Muhammad Omar, a renowned resistance fighter from Kandahar respected for his heroics against the Soviets. The group immediately started its fight against corruption and criminal elements in the society.
In November 1994, the Taliban routed the criminal elements of the society and establish peace in Kandahar city. They imposed a ban on keeping young boys for sodomy and eradicated looting, theft, illegal checkpoints and the rule of the gun. The Islamic movement also established courts where people could take their cases in front of a judge (qazi) and seek justice. After decades of anarchy and strife, people of Kandahar saw peace for the first time.
The Islamic movement went on to capture other regions of Afghanistan such as Herat, Ghazni, Paktia etc. by crushing different warring mujahideen factions. They captured Kabul in September 1996 which was left in tatters during the 1992-96 civil war between former mujahideen groups. Taliban began the insurmountable task of rebuilding the country from scratch. They started the formation of derelict civil service and revived trade and industry.
Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef is a former high-ranking Taliban official who served as the minister of light industries, reconstruction and then transport before deputed as the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan. According to him, sanctions imposed by the US and interference from Iran and Pakistan created many difficulties for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Afghanistan and frustrated their attempts to revive the war-torn economy.
He is also bitter about the subversion caused by ISI, Pakistani intelligence service, which was intent on sabotaging his country’s international stature and worked as the sycophant of western powers.
Soon after the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban asked the US government to talk to Afghanistan directly instead of sending messages through Pakistan. “The Taliban, I said, do not listen to Pakistan, nor do they accept its decisions. As a mediator, I reasoned, Pakistan wouldn’t serve the interest of Afghanistan or America. Bush remained arrogant, though, and refused to listen to reason,” Mullah Zaeef wrote in his memoirs published in 2009.
The former Afghan diplomat, who also spent three torturous years in Guantanamo Bay without any charge, insists the Taliban wanted to turn over Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks but the US was not simply interested in their propositions.
He explains in his book, Life with the Taliban, that firstly, the Taliban wanted to see the evidence of Bin Laden’s involvement in terrorist attack before handing him over. The US simply rejected this demand.
Secondly, the Taliban wanted to hand over the Al Qaeda chief to an Islamic country where the US could present its evidence and Osama Bin Laden be given a fair trial with adequate resources to defend himself. Washington summarily dismissed any such proposal.
Thirdly, the Islamic militia proposed to incarcerate Osama Bin Laden and his associates, render their network useless, and hand them over to a UN tribunal or International Court of Justice in The Hague. But the Americans were not going to accept anything but an unconditional surrender of the Saudi dissident.
“We explained and reasoned why we could not comply. For one, Afghanistan and America did not have any legal obligations towards each other to hand over criminals. No such contract or agreement was ever signed between the two nations. As is customary in cases like these, any criminal that is not subject to an extradition agreement would be tried in the country where they are imprisoned or found at the time. Bilateral recognition and the sovereignty of each country would be respected,” the 43-year-old former diplomat described in his memoirs.