Q: When did the second term of the training program end?
A: I joined the program in 1983. When Mr Sibghatullah Mujaddadi took over as president in Kabul in April 1992, our training program ended. Later in August 1994, I went to Herat and opened the Pakistani consulate there. Under a program, the military officers are also deputed to the Foreign Office. I remained there till the diplomatic relations were broken in the aftermath of 9/11. The training program had already been dismantled because it was linked to the withdrawal of the Soviet troops. The Americans ended the program in February 1989. The Soviets began packing up from there. Later, the Communist troops started to provide stiffer resistance against the mujahidin than Soviet troops. It created a lot of problems because the US had almost stopped its assistance [to mujahidin] due to the problems it was creating. Now, the mujahidin were fighting against their own people. This situation created more problems. The ongoing training course was going to end shortly. When mujahidin reached Kabul in April 1992, this training ended as well.
Q: Who patronized the Taliban? It is said that Gen Naseerullah Babar had organized the Taliban movement or otherwise, the United States had planned it. What do you know in this regards?
A: As I told you, the mujahidin were not provided political training. Therefore, no political infrastructure could be set up. Its reason was that the Soviet Union had decided to pack up and leave Afghanistan in haste and the mujahidin were not mentally prepared for that. The Pakistani advisers had also not made preparations in this regard. The Americans did not expect this as well. It was also an unexpected development for the mujahidin leadership. Another big reason was intra-mujahidin differences. On the other hand, the United States had stopped providing assistance. The mujahidin groups had been relying on assistance. They used to get weapons and fight in the war. Besides, they were also being provided with food. When all this stopped, senior people started pressuring the juniors in order to realize their own importance.
This created a civil war-like situation in Afghanistan. Warlords mushroomed everywhere and those who were more powerful gained control over their respective areas. They gained the support of other people and started to fight those who had not joined them. This happened throughout Afghanistan but the mujahidin did not like it. In this situation, the mujahidin particularly those who were called Taliban, consulted each other that the supreme cause for which they have offered sacrifices was not being served and that the leaders were busy in infighting. They decided to launch a struggle to end this civil war-like situation. The situation had deteriorated in Kandahar. The Taliban launched their struggle from Kandahar. They declared that they would root-out all the evils of society like looting and plunder and the sale of weapons.
The Afghan people appreciated and helped them. Wherever the Taliban went, the people cooperated with them. They captured Kandahar and gradually expanded their control to other areas. The people were extremely happy with them. In this way, the Taliban emerged. Those at the helm of affairs at that time including Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani helped them. They provided funds to the Taliban and asked their mujahidin to cooperate with them. Dr Abdullah also came to the help of Taliban. Rabbani ordered high level commanders in Kandahar like Mullah Naqeebullah to help the Taliban in terms of weapons and funds. Small mujahidin groups of other parties also cooperated with them.
Hekmatyar resisted the Taliban but his own people were also good Muslims and good jihadis. They were not fighting the Taliban from the core of hearts. Therefore, the Taliban continued to make advances and reached Kabul. When they reached Chaharsiab, Hekmatyar left the area. He did not want to fight. He was facing the army of Rabbani's Commander Ahmad Shah Masud. The Taliban asked Masud to give up power because he was not performing well. Exactly seven months later, Rabbani stopped assisting the Taliban and started propagating that the Taliban enjoyed Pakistan's support and they had come at Pakistan's behest.
Rabbani was thinking that the Taliban were fighting against Hekmatyar only. On the other hand, the United States also psychologically helped the Taliban. The Under Secretary of State for Central Asia Miss Raphael used to visit Pakistan fortnightly and made good remarks about the Taliban. They were described as good people. The Americans wanted the Taliban to uproot the warlords and as they had no political setup of their own, they would not be able to become a big political force and would be buried politically. According to the Americans, these boys and youth [Taliban] would not be able to do any big job but at least they would eliminate anti-United States and anti-Rabbani forces like Golboddin Hekmatyar.
Naturally, the United States was also helping them. However, the war started in Kabul, the Taliban ousted Rabbani troops and stabilized themselves in the capital. Then they devised their own strategy. This caused concern for the United States and it felt that the Taliban were more hardcore than their predecessors. So the United States stopped its assistance and became active against them. It imposed sanctions on the Taliban to weaken them. The United States did not appreciate whatever good job they had done. Instead, it continued to put pressure on them. So far as Pakistan is concerned, the reality is that Pakistan was not aware of who these Taliban were. I knew them as low ranking mujahidin. They had received training from me. I knew them personally.
The government was confused over where these mujahidin came from and what group they belonged to. I told them that these people belonged to all the parties. These are the Taliban. They had never been in power in the past. They have been at the forefront in the jihad in Afghanistan during the last 1,000 years [as published], but they had never demanded any sharing of power. Therefore, they had never emerged into the limelight. For the first time, they took over the government and the people came to know that Taliban were also a force. This community, whether they are Pakistanis or Afghans, is held in high esteem in Pashtoon [Pashto-speaking] areas.
When somebody asks questions about them, they are described as Taliban Mullahs [clergy]. They are not expected to lie or be involved in wrong deeds. So they enjoyed a respectable position in society, but at the same time, they were also not expected to capture power. Therefore, when the Taliban captured the government for the first time, the people were surprised. However, the people cooperated with them because they had an extremely neat and clean past. They were considered as extremely good people. The Pakistan Government had not given them any training. These were already trained. They had taken part in militant activities against the Soviet Union. They were self-reliant in weapons because they had snatched and stockpiled the weapons to the extent that they had no place to dump them.
A big arms depot called Qasr-e Jadeed was set up in Kandahar during the period of Sardar Daud. After it was over-dumped, almost four times more weapons were lying in the open outside. All these tanks, vehicles, aircraft and other equipment were Soviet-made. Taliban unscrewed their tanks and then reassembled them to use against the enemy. Pakistan also never extended them any assistance in terms of weapons. That was why, their stock of weapons gradually started to become exhausted during the war. They were not able to repair the vehicles or weapons once they became faulty.
As regards Naseerullah Babar's contribution, it was a coincidence. He wanted to inspect a trade route to link Pakistan to Central Asia. He chose the route from Quetta to Kandahar and Herat which leads up to Central Asia. I was also aware of this route. Therefore, he summoned me and asked to accompany him as a guide. I took his delegation to Afghanistan and arranged meetings with the people in Kandahar and other provinces. We made many stopovers on the way and held meetings with the Afghans. At that time, Taliban were not on the scene. Babar held no meeting with any Taliban group. Babar and Taliban were totally different from each other. The Pakistan People's Party [PPP] had no concern with the Taliban. Babar was the interior minister in the PPP government.
He traveled across the Afghan territory and the people felt that Gen Babar had a role in organizing the Taliban. How can anyone be trained in only one week? The Taliban were already trained. However, Babar had a role in bringing the Taliban leaders to one platform.
Q: Why was the United States intention in using the Taliban and on what issue or stage did differences emerge between them?
A: I think the Americans were extremely worried about the warlords. When the Taliban appeared on the scene with their good reputation, the Americans thought that these youth would comply with its orders if they came to power. When the United States saw that they were more committed to their own policy and cause and they were dreaming of establishing their own rule, the US changed its policy.
Q: The Taliban had made the caliphate era as a role model to rule the country. Is it possible in this contemporary age as today the problems and resources are totally different?
A: This is a debatable issue whether or not the footsteps of the Sahaba [companions of the Prophet] can be followed today. However, the Taliban did a good job in some areas that no one could in Afghanistan during the last 3,000 years. They had disarmed the Afghan nation. They asked the people to lay down weapons and the people voluntarily deposited their weapons in the Islamic spirit. This was a major achievement. Opium is cultivated in Afghanistan in huge quantities. It was a big source of income for the Afghan people. They cannot earn a livelihood by cultivating any other crop. After coming to power, the Taliban waited for foreign assistance for one or two years so that they would be able to eliminate poppy cultivation because it was extremely difficult to stop this without assistance.
At last under a religious decree, they brought the poppy cultivation to nil. Thirdly, they neither had an army nor the police but even then they established peace in the country. If contemporary philosophers claim that the system of caliphate cannot be enforced today or it creates problems, he should see that the Taliban had received no foreign assistance, the state exchequer was empty and the country had no army or police but still the Taliban had established peace. I am an eyewitness to all this. I feel that the people trusted them. Whenever they issued an order, the people cooperated with them. That is why criminals had no room in Afghanistan. They did not usurp the rights of the people. They themselves lived a simple life. They did not snatch anything from others, rather they delivered things to them. They provided protection to women.
Women were extremely insecure in the society. Particularly in Kandahar and Herat, the conditions had worsen for women. They were not able to get out of their homes. The Taliban provided protection to them. For once a lady could travel alone without any fear. This thing cannot be guaranteed in developed countries of the 21st century, but the Taliban made it possible. Therefore, it was proved that the caliphate can be successful even in the 21st century. Six incidents of rape are reported in the United States every minute, but no such incident took place during the Taliban period. If a report came that someone has committed murder or robbery, he was convicted the same day. It means they provided justice to the people on the spot.
The body of the accused of murder or robbery was hanged from a tree or at a crossing in order to create public fear of crime. As a result, complete peace returned to Afghanistan. The Taliban captured several provinces without sending in a single soldier. However, only four persons, that is the governor, deputy governor, police chief and secretary were deputed. These four persons gathered the people and told that Mullah Omar had sent them to rule the area. Then they established the government with the help of the local people. So the Taliban enjoyed the confidence of the people. The people did not consider the Taliban to be dishonest. When the country was hit by famine and the animals started dying, Mullah Omar sent his teams and ordered the people to hand over all their cattle to these teams so that they could be taken to the provinces where grass was abundant.
As the famine ended and you have resources, your cattle would be handed back. I was surprised to see that all the people handing their cattle over to these teams on just on a small piece of paper. Nobody protested against the order or hid his cattle. If all this had happened in our country, the people would have slaughtered their cattle and distributed the meat in their locality. Our people would never have handed the cattle over to the police. This is a matter of confidence and trust. Our people have no confidence in our system of government. They do not trust the police. The Taliban enjoyed the confidence of the people. That was why narcotics were eradicated and weapons recovered. Women and children were protected. They did all this without the help of the army and police.
All this happened because of faith and the system which you call the caliphate or system of Koran and Sunnah [traditions of the Prophet]. This is also workable today provided there is somebody to run it.
Q: You would have met Mullah Omar, Bin Ladin and Al-Zawahiri. How did you find them? What was their behavior and mental approach?
A: In my first meeting with Usama in 1986, I found him to be an extremely serene person. He is basically a civil engineer. He was interested in only one thing, that is how many roads, shelters and tunnels should be constructed to facilitate the mujahidin in Afghanistan so that they could defend themselves against the Soviet shelling. I have never seen him planning any negative activity. The mujahidin came under pressure in Jalalabad and faced difficulties in capturing it. They told Usama about it. He brought his group over there. This was my second meeting with him when I saw him and the Arab mujahidin.
They stayed there in Afghanistan from 1989 to 1999. He was a respectable figure, who had come to Afghanistan in the spirit of jihad, and was helping Afghan brethren. At that time, I did not feel that a time would come when he would be treated like a terrorist and a man who wanted to upset global peace. When a let-up came in the fighting, he moved to Sudan with his close associates. Afterwards, I had no opportunity to meet him. When he returned to Afghanistan, I was in Herat. He was staying as the guest of Borhanoddin Rabbani in Jalalabad. I have never met Al-Zawahiri.
My first meeting with Mullah Omar was held in 1985 when he came for training as a common mujahid. I never thought that this mujahid would one day become 'chief of the faithfuls' [amirul momineen] Mullah Omar. I knew his commander Mullah Faizullah Akhund and had developed a good friendship with him. I did not even recognize Mullah Omar. When our meeting was held in 1994, he himself told me that he had received training from me. He had received the training in a Pakistani area. After 1994, we often met each other. I was visiting Kandahar and meeting Mullah Omar there. He is an extremely simple man like other common Afghans.
He was determined to do something for his country. He was worried about how to prevent the country falling into the hands of the warlords and the armed units disrupting the peace. Mullah Omar was successful to a great extent in this task. He had gained control over 95 percent of Afghanistan. In his personal life, Mullah Omar was an extremely simple man. He spent just a little on himself. I have always seen him in a single dress. Probably he would change his dress on Friday to wash it. I always met Mullah Omar at lunch time. He used to take only one dish, that is potato and soup. I have never seen him having any more dishes. His style of eating suggested that he had been hungry since morning.
Perhaps, he would take meat in the evening, but I never met him in the evening. He was not talkative but was a good listener. He never involved himself in debates. If some special guest visited him and he had given some advice to him, he would respond in only one sentence that "I [Mullah Omar] have listened to you. I have learned some new things which I did not know before. God willing, when I will do that, I will keep your advice in mind." Our delegations visited him and held lengthy discussions but Mullah Omar just listened to them. His attitude toward our people was extremely affectionate, but he would never change his orders. He would strictly implement his orders.
During the jihad against the Soviet Union, he was a low-ranked mujahid. I mean he was not a senior jihadi but his character earned him the highest position. The Taliban accorded him great respect. The common Afghans also held him in high esteem. Most of the pictures of Mullah Omar are imaginary. He is about six feet two inches tall. He is a smart man. His physique is extremely good. He has a light slender body. He lost his right eye during the jihad against the Soviet Union and was treated in Pakistan. He has a long thick beard. He always covered his head with turban. He never posed as if he was an important person. He used to make the people realize that he was not a scholar but a common and simple Afghan, who has been assigned a responsibility and he was making every possible effort to shoulder it. He used to consult the religious scholars in government affairs therefore, he was an extremely successful ruler.
Q: How far were you involved in the important decisions the Taliban were compelled to take after 9/11?
A: We held meetings after that. I came to Kandahar and frequently met with Mullah Omar. He was working extremely secretly. He was well aware of his fate. He knew even before 9/11 that the United States would launch an operation against him. He was mentally prepared for that. The members of his advisory council were also ready to face the catastrophe. They never seemed worried. They hoped that if the United States attacked them or conducted an operation, the Muslim community would at least register its protest. When the decision was taken to attack Afghanistan, I was present. Mullah Omar was highly shocked that the Muslim community did not express even concern over the decision. However, his behavior was normal. He was not embarrassed but busy in preparations. I was also accompanying a delegation of scholars. I held a meeting with him but saw no negative change in him. He appeared quite calm.
Q: You have worked with the CIA as well. Has the CIA not learned a lesson from war [between mujahidin and Soviet forces] that Afghanistan cannot be captured?
A: I worked with the CIA in the first 10 years of the Afghan Jihad. At that time, they were helping us in the war against Soviet Union. I was surprised that they [CIA] were such good people that they would immediately provide us various necessities including equipment, weapons, photo maps, wireless sets and other items according to the requirements of any plan. It often happened that they would arrange for the things we required within no time. They extended forthright cooperation to us beyond our expectations. I feel that they provided 30 to 40 percent more assistance to the Afghans than was actually needed. This assistance included weapons and other items.
When Geneva Accord was signed [April 1988] and the Soviets decided to withdraw, the entire CIA team was replaced with new people. We were surprised to see that the new people were ill-mannered and non-cooperative. They never listened to us. We saw that the policy had changed altogether after the Geneva Accord. Good people were withdrawn and replaced with those who were ill-mannered and looked like police personnel of some Third World country. We were disappointed and felt that the motive was to discourage those who had defeated the Soviet Union. When the Afghans were fighting the Soviet Union, the United States supported them. I had close association with the CIA in this regard. At that time, I noted that the Americans were surprised at how this nation was fighting a superpower like the Soviet Union.
Senior US officials came to see them and were surprised how such accurate hits were possible from Stinger missiles and how it performed so well. The Afghan mujahidin were giving better results in the use of the Stinger than the experiments the Americans had carried out. The record of the Afghans in fighting was excellent. The CIA officials did not believe in the Taliban claims; therefore, they came to see the performance in person. We took them to a safe place near the Pakistani border. One Afghan mujahid stood on the hilltop and saw an aircraft. He took out a Stinger to target the aircraft. The other aircraft saw him and attacked him. Another team of mujahidin targeted the other plane as well. The Americans were surprised at the bravery of the Afghan fighters. In spite of the fact that the enemy enjoyed full control of the airspace, the Taliban targeted their aircraft and shot both of them. Then they remarked: "The Stinger is a good weapon but when it is on Afghan shoulder, it is excellent".
When the CIA officials found these people to be so valiant and imbibed with the religious spirit that they were ready to sacrifice even their lives, they became concerned. They decided not to allow them to organize themselves. Therefore, they manipulated the Geneva Accord. This accord was totally against the objectives of jihad and jihadi groups. The jihadi groups were not taken into confidence on it. The people who had forced the Soviet forces to retreat were ignored. Pakistan and the communist regime of Kabul were forced to sign the accord. This accord was designed to sabotage the Afghan jihad. The mujahidin were ordered to form their own government and Washington assured them that it would recognize their government.
Obviously, the mujahidin were not ready for that. They hastily formed a government in exile and surprised the Americans. The Americans had never thought that these people could unite and agree to to be lead by one person. The president and prime minister were chosen and a cabinet was formed. The United States prohibited Pakistan from recognizing this regime. This decision shocked the mujahidin. They had formed the government on Pakistani territory at Pakistan's behest but the same Pakistan was not giving it recognition because the United States had forbidden this. We wasted our own services at US behest. Now the Afghans do not trust us like they did in the past. Previously, they realized that we had helped them a lot but now they have started saying that you helped us at US behest and when the United States ordered, you stopped helping us.
Then pressure was put on the Afghan mujahidin to form a broad-based government involving the communists as well. Pakistan made this demand at US behest which worsened the situation. The United States wanted to eliminate the Islamic revolutionary spirit among the Afghan mujahidin. This is the basic reason of this whole episode that those who had fought in the name of religion should not reorganize themselves. I felt that the United States wanted to create a situation to once again recapture Afghanistan. Almost every superpower has desired a presence in Afghanistan. History has always repeated itself in this country. Alexander The Great, Chinese Hun nation, the Iranian monarch Dara, Hindus and Sikhs have all captured Afghanistan, but were ousted. The British Empire thrice invaded Afghanistan but met with an extremely bad fate.
Once their entire army could not return and in another they faced a humiliating defeat. The Soviet Union also invaded Afghanistan with its world's biggest army but it also met a tragic fate. Every superpower had a desire to control this trade route and capture the world's most precious resources including oil and gas.