Links between the Taliban and al Qaeda have grown stronger
Kaustav Chakrabarti, Opendemocracy.net; 24 November 2009
Rahimullah Yousufzai, the well-known Peshawar editor of The News International, has been covering Afghanistan and Pakistan for the past thirty years. Rare interviews with Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar to his credit, he offers a deep insight into the evolution of the Taliban. Kaustav Chakrabarti spoke with him recently on the Taliban, terrorism and the future of India-Pakistan relations.
The current state of the Taliban
Kaustav Chakrabarti: Mr. Rahimullah Yousufzai, you have been following different armed movements in the region, particularly the Taliban, for several decades now. What do you think about the Taliban?
Rahimullah Yousufzai: The Taliban are an inward looking group. They are indigenous and they have been consistently saying and proving that they are only concerned about Afghanistan. But circumstances have placed them in such a position that they can't help it. Before they came to power in Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden was already in Afghanistan. Bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan in 1996. Earlier, he was there till 1991 after the Soviet forces pulled out. After that he went first to Saudi Arabia and then to Sudan. So he arrived in Afghanistan before the Taliban captured Kabul. He was living in Jalalabad under the protection of the Mujahideen government headed by Prof Badruddin Rabbani and his defence minister, Ahmed Shah Massoud.
Osama Bin Laden was given refuge by the Jalalabad shaura (council) of the Mujahideen headed by Haji Qadir. The Taliban inherited these Arabs and Osama Bin Laden. I am witness to the fact that they were initially suspicious of each other. Osama thought that the Taliban was a US-Pakistan creation and that he could not work with them. The Taliban thought that since Osama was working with the Mujahideen earlier he must still be friendly to them.
They had a few meetings, and they resolved their differences; he was allowed to stay on in Jalalabad. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants and other Central Asian groups were also allowed to stay. They were already there before the Taliban came to power. But their presence in Afghanistan increased after the Taliban came to power because Taliban gave refuge to everyone who wanted to come; Arabs, Central Asians, Chinese Muslims, and Indonesians.
The Taliban's links with al Qaeda, however, have grown over the years, since they have been fighting together for long. They have fought a common enemy in a common trench, given blood to each other; so now the bonds are much stronger. The Taliban would still like to confine themselves to Afghanistan. Maybe they would not be very happy to give refuge to people like Osama. But now that the bonds have been strengthened, I do not know if they can push them out.
KC: Mullah Omar regarded Bamiyan Buddha as an Afghan heritage and wanted to protect it. Then why did he allow it to be destroyed? Was there a change in his outlook?
RY: Regarding the destruction of Bamiyan Buddha, the radical elements within the Taliban movement had their way. Mullah Omar, in spite of being the leader, did not have the power to stop this. What they did was something very unwise; it was a heritage, why destroy them. One incident provoked them. A famine had exasperated the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. People had been displaced because of the fighting. The Taliban had appealed to the world for help including the UN. No one was forthcoming as the Taliban was like a pariah. And this got them angry. They thought that while the world was concerned about the statues, no one was concerned about the Afghans. That there was more concern for the dead than for those who were still alive and could have survived if they were given help.
For complete interview, click here