|In the midst of that tragic tableau I found a big book, and its glossy pages were covered with blood. It was an anthology of poems in Russian and was illustrated with amateurish romantic drawings of officers and soldiers with beautiful girls. There were also [drawings of] many flowers, trees, bottles of wine, and birds. I assumed that the entire anthology was about officers and soldiers who went to the battlefronts and left behind them their kinfolk, lovers, and the joys of life. The blood that stained the pages added a tragic conclusion to the life of a human being who lost his life in a strange land. He was killed as he was firing at innocent people while he was reading poems about love and the pain of parting, like Nero who set Rome on fire while he was singing poems. The Russian soldier had fallen, and we did not know where his body was in the midst of the charred assembly. He lost his life senselessly and about 11 years after his death communism fell and the Soviet state fell in the same mountains in Afghanistan.
The momentum of events increased after the battle on the road. Morale rose in an unexpected manner. Delegations of mujahidin from neighboring provinces arrived, especially from Ghazni, asking for assistance and especially for anti-armor weapons (RPG) [Ruchnoy Protivotankovy Granatomyot]. The Government forces in Gardiz began to grumble about their commanders. Suddenly, 11 middle-ranking officers who had fled from service arrived and said they were preparing a big surrender operation together with their soldiers, and the plan almost succeeded but the government intelligence service (Khad) discovered the matter and the officers were compelled to escape quickly before they were arrested and executed.
We sat down with the officers who belonged to different services of the armed forces. They painted to us a picture of the situation within the army and among the ranks of the Kabul regime. The picture suggested that the regime was corroding with extraordinary speed. That picture was correct to a great extent, and in December of the same year [ 1979] the Soviets were forced to bring in the Red Army to control the country and prevent the collapse of communism in a neighboring country, especially as the alternative will be Islam. The blows that were dealt to the government forces --such as the ambush on the Gardiz-Khowst highway -- had exacerbated the situation among the officers. They became divided into ordinary officers and others who belonged to the ruling Khalq Party and who were supported by Soviet advisors who were the real decision makers inside the army. The foolhardy raids which the Soviets and their followers among the Khalq officers had decided to launch ended tragically in mountainous terrain that was very favorable for the destruction of armies by men driven by unusual religious zeal. Yet despite that, there was a tangible need for the mujahdin to get training. The training the mujahidn had received at the time did not exceed training in the firing of old rifles and some light weapons which they had recently captured. They needed to be taught in the use of everything else by the soldiers and officers who had joined them.
The RPG Surprise
The mujahidin's story with the anti-tank RPG rocket launcher was amusing. They had no knowledge of the existence of that weapon in the first place. In one of their ambushes along the same road, the Gardiz-Khowst road, they attacked a convoy of infantrymen transported by trucks, behind which there were a number of armored vehicles and artillery pieces. The convoy was dispersed and most of the infantrymen escaped, while the armored vehicles and tanks continued to fire their heavy machineguns. The situation froze there and the mujahidin were unable to collect the booty or evacuate the wounded or dead. They saw a soldier carrying that strange weapon and asked him about it, and he told them it was an anti-tank [weapon]. And it became known to them as "anti-tank" until they learned its original name. They asked him to open fire at one of the tanks but he was afraid to go forward, and merely explained its use to one of the mujahidin who took the weapon, went forward, and fired the first anti-armor salvo in his military life, and indeed in the history of the entire province. The tank's turret was blown off. That was not the first surprise. The greater surprise was that all the crews of the tanks and armored vehicles jumped out of them with their hands in the air. It transpired that their fear of the RPGs was greater than the mujahidin's fear of the tanks.
From that day this strange weapon entered the records of the mujahidin's military service. The fact is they excelled in using it throughout the war, and they even used it against aircraft and helicopters. It frightened aircraft flying at low altitudes. We discovered at a late stage -- after the end of the war -- that the mujahidin used to refuse to use the RPG's telescope when aiming. At first we thought they did not have it. The fact is the telescope greatly enhances the weapon's value and potential in the battles and its great ability to hit the target. Some Afghans used to laugh when they saw an Arab use the telescope, and when we asked them why they laughed they said the telescope is only for those with poor eyesight. After enquiring and researching we learned years later that the Pakistani intelligence service which trained the Afghans in the use of artillery had refused to train them in the use of artillery telescopes. Therefore the mujahidin's artillery in most cases was to agitate and scare off, although there were limited exceptions toward the end of the war.
The tactics of using artillery were extremely backward and almost nonexistent except for the technical advice which Pakistani officers gave to the Afghan artillery men, advice that was more harmful than useful. It aimed to increase the mujahidin's reliance on the ammunition supplies that came from Pakistan and on the harmful advice of the men of the Pakistani intelligence service who were anxious to keep the mujahidin's military efficacy at a low level that does not develop in order to maintain US-Pakistani interests in steering the political aspect of the conflict in a manner compatible with the -- precisely regulated -- limits of rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Training was one of the aspects of the mujahidin's military problem throughout the war. It was also closely linked to the political aspect of the entire cause. In the following years of the war, when the Arabs appeared on the scene, we will see aspects of that problem among them as well. These days I often remember the delegation that came from Ghazni province that was led by the young mawlawi who was oozing strength and determination. I met him as soon as he had arrived at the (Sirana) center and he was still panting as a result of climbing the mountain. He asked me in classical Arabic: "Are you Arab?" I learned from him that they live in open rural areas and suffer a great deal because of the tanks, and that he came to asks for assistance from mawlawi Jalaluddin, for he had learned that they had an "anti-tank" and they wanted at least one such weapon.
When I asked him about the problem of the aircraft he said they do not care much for them, for they -- the jets -- come, drop their bombs, and go, while the tank is used by the army to get inside the homes and violate sanctities and shed blood without their having a means to ward off the tanks. When I asked him in surprise why they did not fear the aircraft his explanation was even stranger. He was sitting on the top of the house with his elderly mother, and suddenly the aircraft arrived and began to drop their bombs over the village. When he wanted to run down for protection from the bombing, his old mother admonished him and said: "You are a mawlawi who has learned God's Book and you fear an unbeliever?" He felt ashamed and remorseful and stayed with her until the bombardment ended, and then he went down to help with providing relief to the wounded and moving the martyrs' bodies. The story about the mother was strange to me, but similar stands by both men and women were real. It was one of the hidden aspects of the Afghan legend.
When I asked the mawlawi about his jihadist program and its purpose, his answer which still echoes in my ear was: "We will fight the communists until we conquer Bukhara and Samarqand [in Soviet Uzbekistan]." I stared at his face in astonishment. How did that mountain man remember those names that lie in forgotten Islamic history? How dare he? His words penetrated deep inside me and I felt as though it was a prophecy that will be inevitably fulfilled, although it was beyond imagination. How true was the prediction of that young mawlawi as I now see in front of me mujahidin from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan training and fighting to defeat the remaining communism in their countries. The young mawlawi then surprised me with a question whose seriousness I realized only several years later. He said to me: What is your confession? It was another surprise, for it was the first time I was asked such a question.
Until that moment I did not specifically know what my confession was, and indeed it was of no importance to me. I remembered that the Shafi'i [one of the four schools of thought in Sunni Islam] school of thought prevails in Egypt, and I concluded that I must be a Shafi'i as well. I told the man that I am a Shafi'i. However, he continued his question: What do you know about Muhammad Bin-Abd-al-Wahhab [founder of Wahhabi movement]? Coincidentally I had brought with me a book that was a collection of Bin-Abd-al-Wahhab's works. I liked it very much especially as what I used to hear about him was very hostile to him and his movement. However, when I began to read his books I liked his style and method. Very naively I began to enumerate Bin-Abd-al-Wahhab's positive aspects to the young mawlawi. Several years later I realized why I never saw that mawlawi again. It was my first and last conversation with him.
When the Gulf role in Afghanistan grew, I heard in 1986 from some salafis that the greatest threat to the future of Afghanistan is the Afghan Shiites and not the Soviet occupation. As much as I was astonished by that argument that was put forward by a young Muslim who was prominent in the seminars and conferences in the east and west, as much as I failed to convince him of the importance of deferring that threat and tackling it until after the Soviet withdrawal. However, he looked at me doubtfully. In his view, every Muslim with a sound faith does not hesitate to support his argument completely.
In the same year, I met another person from the same school. He was from North Africa. He had relinquished the jihad in Afghanistan and began to urge others to do the same. Of course, he urged me as well to do so, and when I asked him the reason he said that the Hanafi [one of four Sunni schools of thought] school of thought contains at least 10 matters in which it -- deliberately and with predetermination -- contravenes the Prophet Muhammad's tradition. I apologized that I am not a scholar to judge Abi-Hanifah's "deviations" and I will believe without argument that Abi-Hanifah deliberately contravenes the Prophet's traditions in 10 matters, but I am certain -- as far as I know -- that Babrak Karmal, the president of the communist regime in Kabul [from 1979 to 1986], does not agree with Islamic canon law or the Prophet's tradition on a single matter, so which is more fit to rule Afghanistan: the law of Abi-Hanifah or the law of [Karl] Marx? Of course, he did not like what I said and I did not see him after that except once after the Russian withdrawal. In his view the Muslim camp was confined to a few persons, and he was at their head of course. I did not see that clearly except in stages.
At the present time I believe there is complete clarity, now that the experience has been completed and all -- or most -- of what was hidden, or vague, or incomprehensible to us has emerged clearly. All the mistakes and advantages existed on our side, the Arabs, even in a simple group such as the three of us. Most of the traits and main features of the subsequent Arab presence existed in us, such as poor qualification on the religious, political, and military levels to embark on such a great confrontation between Islam -- which is represented by unqualified and zealous individuals, and behind them there was a lost, bewildered, and enslaved nation [ummah] whose sanctities were violated [sentence incomplete].
We had great, ambiguous, and undefined dreams, and we did not know how to achieve them in real life. Those dreams reflected the extent of our ignorance of the reality of the world, and indeed of our own reality. Perhaps such ignorance was one of the reasons for the boldness of our moves. It is the courage of ignorance that astonished many people and brought us a great deal of problems, accusations, and doubts and led us to clash with many others. What surprised us more than anything else was that the first clash and the most painful clash for us was brought about by that Muslim side which we tried to hang on to in the same way a drowning man hangs on to a straw in stormy waters. I am referring to the Muslim Brotherhood whose followers caused us much hardship and pain throughout our work for the Afghan cause. Then some of its "blessings" pursued us when we tried these days to move on to work on the Tajikistan cause.
The Afghan "experience" has revived within us many hopes. It made clear to us and enlightened us about many practical ways and provided us with a measure of perspicacity and experience. But it also debunked many other hopes and dreams, the first of which was the Muslim Brotherhood, and the latest of which were those naïve hopes about the state that was about to emerge in Afghanistan that rules on the basis of the line of the Prophet Muhammad as practiced by the orthodox caliphs. There are also other dreams especially with regard to bringing together "the nation of Islam" behind a cause or a leadership. Although we still believe that striving toward such a unity is a religious duty yet our present belief is that it remains impossible until God has mercy on us, because experience has proved to us that such unity is above the ability of all mankind -- "Even if you had given away everything in the Earth you would not have brought their hearts together, but God has brought them together" [Koranic verse].
It is a purely divine miracle, although striving toward it is a religious necessity as we have said, notwithstanding our certainty that we are unable to achieve that task. That is similar to fighting against modern mighty armies that enjoy superiority in everything except in faith. That is what we saw and sensed with our six senses in Afghanistan. It is an impossible task when measured by human standards, but it was achieved before our eyes in Afghanistan. In short, I did not notice in that experience that we have the true Muslim who represents religion and who can stand up to human beings who are unbelievers and heavily armed with the prerequisites of material strength.
Our moral and ethical forces have not been harnessed, for we are still soiled to a dangerous level by the pre-Islamic [jahili] values and ethics and we are defeated within ourselves -- however loudly our claims to the contrary may be -- in the face of the West's atheistic civilization. It is easy for us to deviate or to be bought or to be exploited in serving their [West's] will and plans, wittingly or unwittingly. Our movements in Afghanistan and then in Bosnia were merely examples of that tyrannical control from a far or a close distance of the best Islamic action in modern times, namely jihadist action. Jihadist action emerged and grew in Afghanistan but it did not evolve a leadership, or a method of action, or organizational instruments, or a clear and well-integrated thought that covers the fields of action that are required militarily and politically under clear and disciplined canon law concepts.
All that has not happened in Afghanistan, and so far it has not happened anywhere else as far as I know, not in Bosnia, Tajikistan, Egypt, or even Algeria, despite the great progress in jihadist work in that country until the time of writing these lines. Afghanistan has proved that what is of consequence is the final results of jihadist action and not the degree of military progress of such action at any particular stage. We have learned from Afghanistan that however loud, ear-piercing, and earth-shaking the jihadist shouting may be it does not under any circumstances mean that we have sound jihadist action or a sincere Islamic leadership. Often the intensity of the shouting contradicts the degree of sincerity.
* To be completed.
[Description of Source: London Al-Sharq al-Awsat (Internet Version-WWW) in Arabic -- Influential Saudi-owned London daily providing independent coverage of Arab and international issues; editorials reflect official Saudi views on foreign policy. URL: http://www.asharqalawsat.com/]
Asia Times: Taliban Preparing for this Year's Spring Offensive
CPP20061211715003 Hong Kong Asia Times Online WWW-Text in English 1116 GMT 08 Dec 06
[Asia Times: "Time Out from a Siege"]
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - In the years following their ouster in 2001, the Taliban waged a low-intensity war against foreign forces in Afghanistan, characterized by uncoordinated, sporadic attacks in which the Taliban suffered large losses.
During this period, this correspondent met many Taliban commanders, including some who were members of Taliban leader Mullah Omar's shura (command council). Although they were the core of the Taliban movement, they were mostly young lads educated in madrassas (seminaries) and they displayed a singular lack of vision.
Most of these meetings took place on the Durand Line near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and invariably the young men appeared extremely nervous, even with fear in their eyes.
These were the men on whom the resistance depended. Yet remarkably, after years of meritocracy, this year's spring offensive was a stunning success, extending Taliban control over vast swaths of the south and southwest and inflicting heavy casualties on foreign forces.
There is no doubt that increasing public disenchantment with the administration of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul helped the Taliban win popular support, but it does not explain their dramatic military success.
One might argue that the youthful Taliban leaders have matured into intelligent and savvy commanders. Not so. They remain about as blinkered and shortsighted as they have ever been.
What did happen was that around April, military operations were handed over to legendary mujahideen commander Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani, a non-Taliban veteran of the campaign against the Soviets in the 1980s (see Taliban's new commander ready for a fight/A). In the mid-1990s, after the bloody civil war that followed the Soviets' withdrawal, Haqqani had surrendered to the Taliban when they reached Khost province.
In preparation for this year's spring offensive, Haqqani quickly replaced the highly dedicated but militarily naive Taliban field commanders with his team of battle-hardened mujahideen. His motto was, "Where there is no vision, there is no hope." Haqqani made an agreement with Mullah Omar under which once his men brought victory to a front, they would depart for a new one, leaving the Taliban behind to administer as they saw fit under their brand of Islam.
This arrangement can best be described as a marriage of convenience. On the one hand, it would be wrong to assume that the Taliban are the most popular movement in southwestern Afghanistan. Rather, they are seen as the best alternative to corrupt and inefficient local administrations.
On the other hand, the mujahideen certainly don't see themselves as subservient to the young Taliban. What they have in common is a hatred of the occupying forces.
Thus the Taliban movement acts as a unifying force for all anti-American forces in the country, while at the same time bringing discipline and order into local affairs.
Face to face with a fighter
While in Musa Qala, a Taliban stronghold in the north of Helmand province in the southwest of Afghanistan, this correspondent made satellite-telephone contact with a commander in the Nawzad district of the province. He is laying siege to a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Afghan National Army (ANA) base in the area, although at the time a week-long ceasefire was in operation.
I was told that it was unsafe to make my own way to meet the commander, so transport would be sent to fetch me from the hotel where I was staying.
Several anxious hours passed with no sign of my pickup. Finally, as lunch approached, a tall, sharp-eyed, well-built man walked into the hotel lobby and sat by a pillar and ordered green tea. He seemed oblivious to his surroundings.
I sat next to him and ordered lunch, which I ate in silence. But when I tried to pay, the stranger grabbed my wrist and pushed away my hand, barking. "He is our guest. I will pay the money." He then handed over a Rs1,000 (Pakistan) note (US$16), which the wai ter pocketed without comment.
"I am Abdul Sattar and will take you to Nawzad," the man said, at last breaking into a smile. We set off in a high-powered double-cab vehicle across deserted, trackless plains that stretched into the horizon.
We passed through Gila-i-Tangi, a beautiful hill town, and continued until we arrived at a settlement of mud houses. Two youngsters were waiting for us and took us to a one-roomed house set on a large plot with trees, flowers and vegetables.
My heart skipped as we entered the room: about a dozen youths were standing, all of them holding AK-47s. Ammunition was stacked against the walls, as well as more AKs, machine-guns, rocket-propelled grenades and rockets.
A light-skinned man with piercing eyes and a strong-looking body came forward and hugged me. "Welcome to the base of the mujahideen in Nawzad. I am Abdul Khaliq Akhund."
Akhund had once been associated with Ahmad Shah Masoud, the legendary "Lion of the Panjshir" and leader of the Northern Alliance that resisted the Taliban throughout their five-year rule. Masoud was assassinated by al-Qaeda shortly before September 11, 2001, apparently as a gift from Osama bin Laden to the Taliban for allowing al-Qaeda to operate in Afghanistan.
However, Akhund, who fought mostly in the Kandahar area against the Soviets, pledged allegiance with Mullah Omar once the Taliban emerged as a power.
Akhund, by all reports an excellent military strategist, is best at home on the battlefield. He was field commander for Mazar-i-Sharif and other northern provinces during Taliban rule. When they fell, he went to Helmand.
"This is a tribal society. I am a respected member and also respected as a mujahid," Akhund said. "I continue to live in this Nawzad district. When the Americans conducted military operations, I was informed by my tribespeople and I used to leave the area. When the operations ended, I went back to my place."
By now it was dusk and we all said our evening prayers before dinner was served. This consisted of bread baked at least three days before, which made it hard to chew and tasteless - it helped to dip the bread into a bowl of watery curry. Each person also received a small portion of dried meat. Akhund split his and threw a piece at me. "You are a guest. Eat well."
"You never attack people of your tribe who join the government?" I asked Akhund.
"No. They are our strength. Why should we? I share the same opinion for former Taliban who have joined the Karzai administration or who were elected in the last parliamentary elections. They are not in the government with real will or conviction. That have changed loyalties out of compulsion," the war veteran-turned-Talib explained. This is an unusual attitude, as the Taliban generally condemn anyone who stands in elections.
"Do you think a person like Mullah Abdus Salaam Rocketi would join the Karzai administration with conviction?" Akhund asked as he took a sip of water. Rocketi was a close aide of Mullah Omar in charge of southwest Afghanistan's military operations when the US attacked in 2001. He surrendered and after a brief detention was released. In the 2005 parliamentary polls he was elected from Zabul province.