What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Shedding some light on the category 'ex-Taliban': Part one

Part one of an MStFB backgrounder mini-series
In my previous post I referred to the often overlooked fact that some people who are considered 'ex-Taliban' today for some minor or major role that they played in the Taliban-era, either as a government official or as a military commander back then, do hold more or less important positions in today's Afghanistan, say, as MPs, or as provincial governors, just for example. These are the people we could actually consider the real 'moderate Taliban', who are so moderate that they are actually already 'over here', rather than over on their 'original' side (as much as that side has ever been 'theirs'). In the first of a mini-series of posts looking at people like that, I'll include some interesting material here on Abdul Salaam Rocketi, a member of the Afghan parliament today, who has just recently joined talks as a negotiator working to secure the release of the remaining South Korean hostages currently held by the Taliban.
I'll summarise, as well as include here long excerpts of, an interview that Péter Wagner made with Abdul Salaam Rocketi last year. I'll essentially downgrade myself to the rank of translator here - this is going to be informative stuff, and I'm able to deliver it to you thanks to Péter Wagner who gave me the green lights to do so. The interview originally appeared in the Hungarian weekly Magyar Narancs. Péter Wagner has also posted it on his blog, on August 9, 2006 (you may find the original, Hungarian text here to check my translation, should you wish so).
Since this is a summary, I had to leave out some parts of the text (I'm just excerpting it after all), and replace those with my explanatory/summary remarks. Nevertheless all credit should go to Péter Wagner for the remaining part of this post.
Picture: Abdul Salaam Rocketi in February, 2006 (photo provided by Péter Wagner)
Leader of a madrasah in Zabul province at the time the Soviets came in, mullah Abdul Salaam Rocketi fought as a battlefield commander during the ensuing jihad, in the ranks of the same Islamist party that mullah Omar is said to have joined at the time. (...)
Péter Wagner: Where does the name Rocketi come from?
Abdul Salaam Rocketi: During the jihad we used all sorts of weapons against the Soviets. I used to fire pretty accurately with the RPG-7, with this simple, shoulder-fired Russian grenade-launcher. After a while I had all important tasks assigned to me if that weapon was ever needed. So the name stuck to me.
PW: (...) How did you come across the Taliban?
ASR: I used to live in Qalat at the time, in the midst of my own tribe, the Suleimankhel. When the Taliban came they disarmed me and my men, wasting no time. Then, after a couple of months, some of mullah Omar's men came to my home to see me, and they asked me if I wanted to join their movement.
(ASR later says his reason for doing so was the hope he saw in the stability the Taliban brought: their having created security by uniting the divided Pashtun tribes. ASR was given command of the 1st Corps in the Taliban's army. In the following years he even got to meet mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden personally.) (...)
ASR (on meetings with mullah Omar): With mullah Omar I did meet several times, of course. He is a short-spoken, silent man, in fact he would remain silent at most of the meetings. He didn't want to stand out from the rest, he used to wear the same traditional clothing that everyone else was wearing. His men respected him enormously, despite his young age.
(...)
ASR (on meeting bin Laden): Yes, I did meet him, but only once, in Jalalabad, where we were introduced to each other at a party. We could briefly talk with the help of an interpreter.
PW: Can I link you in on wiw (a social networking site - P.M.) ? So that I can be a node away from Osama?
ASR: I don't use the internet.
PW: In the West it is a widespread view that bin Laden was a key figure of the anti-Soviet jihad, who directed and organised the activities of arriving foreign volunteers, and that he himself fought in several battles. Could you confirm that? After all you were a battlefield commander in the same area.
ASR: Bin Laden wasn't well-known in Afghanistan during the jihad. There were a lot of volunteers moving around on the Pakistani side, and a lot came to help and fight. Perhaps he was better known in some narrower regional circles, but in general that cannot be said of him.
PW: What happened to you after the fall of the Taliban?
ASR: I was caught by the Americans and taken to Baghram. Without any official indictment I was held there for seven months, then people from Zabul province came and demanded that they let me go. That's what happened.
PW: How did you come to the decision that you should run for election? After all this current regime is the one that toppled the Taliban, and they had you end up in prison.
ASR: In the parliament I'm representing my home province, the people of Zabul. They asked me to become a candidate.
(...)
In later parts of the interview, ASR says he has simply never been a bad person, and so he finds it natural that people like him can hold office in today's Afghanistan. He reveals (speaking in early 2006) that he thinks it's rather that the Karzai government is weak, and not the Taliban's getting stronger, that affects the security situation more. He does point to Pakistan's role, however, in the background of the Taliban's strength. On ISAF's expansion to the southern provinces of Afghanistan, being planned at the time, he had this to say: "It's important that the ISAF forces go there, because the security situation there is dreadful. In Zabul province, for example, there's not a single NGO or aid organisation that would be ready to work there, because of the lack of security, and so these areas are left out completely of all the internationally assisted development that is taking place." Finally, to the question of what he sees as the most important challenge regarding Afghanistan's future, he says it is the need to overcome the ethnic divisions created by the civil war that followed in the wake of the Soviets' departure, since its character evolved so that it created an impression as though it would have been the country's different ethnic groups that were at war with each other. That breeds a lack of trust, and that will have to be forgotten.

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