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

Friday, October 5, 2007

A trio from southern Afghanistan

(This post, from 2007, shall now be updated, in the light of much new information from Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef's book, My Life With the Taliban. Some updates added regarding Haji Bashir Noorzai's story as well - Péter Marton, January 16, 2010)
Mullah Mohammed Omar, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil and Haji Bashir. What did these three people have in common in the distant past? Well, first of all, at some point, mullah Mohammed Omar is said to have fought, as mujahed, under Haji Bashir's command in the Hizb-i-Islami (Khalis faction), according to a Taliban insider source who spoke to U.S. officials back in 1995. And Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil was Omar's student in a small madrassa in a small village called Sangesar (or Singesar; or Sangi Hisar). That's the short answer. What do they have in common right now? Seemingly not much is the obvious answer. Omar is hiding in some safe haven in or around Quetta, in Pakistan. Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, if rumours have it right, spends most of his time reading books, in a Kabul safehouse under the protection of the Karzai government. And Haji Bashir is awaiting trial in the U.S.
In this post I'll try to look at what happened in between those two points in time.
It is really difficult to put together an accurate picture of mullah Omar's life. Many have tried, and I'm not the one who will revolutionise working with open source information and come up with the ultimate version. Some say he was born in 1959, others say 1962. Most sources, but not all of them, agree that he is from the province of Kandahar. Often named is the village of Nodeh as his birthplace, while some say he is from Sangesar where he studied, and later even taught at the local madrassa. (The latter statement comes in spite of his actually not having finished religious studies, which he himself emphasised in the past at times, hence calling himself a "talib", a seeker or student.) But then others say he is from Uruzgan. They are a minority I would say, but these voices include e.g. Ahmed Karzai, or, say, Dan Green, who used to work in Uruzgan as POLAD, so it would be remarkable if either of them were to have this wrong, even if I for my part think they might do.*** Ahmed Rashid writes in his book "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia" that Omar's relatives moved to Uruzgan in the 1980s (Rashid mentions Tarin Kowt at that point), given that Soviet forces largely avoided Uruzgan. It was following this period that Omar found time to fight in the ranks of the Khalis faction of Hizb-i-Islami, against the Najibullah regime, between 1989 and 1992. Omar then found himself a second wife in Sangesar, named Guljana, and all of his children (five of them) were studying there in his madrassa. Ahmed Rashid says Omar's first and third wives are from Uruzgan, though. That was the way they lived before the idea of teaching a lesson to some warlords came.* (corrected in an update, see below)
Now, AIMS has some cool maps about Afghanistan, as most observers of Afghan matters will know, and neither Nodeh, nor Sangesar figure on their detailed map of Kandahar. Instead one may find Sangi Hisar which is most likely Sangesar, and "Naday" which is either identical with Nodeh or not (but comes closest to it on the map). Both villages are near the larger settlement of Maywand, the centre of Maywand district in Kandahar where the Taliban's story is claimed by the Talib source mentioned above to have started. Take a look at the map:
The Taliban's story may have started there, but of course not every detail is clear how. They have emerged in an environment ruled by warlords of an extremely predatory nature, warlords some of whose men used to rape people (boys and girls alike), and who ran a lot of checkpoints collecting a heavy toll from anyone willing to move across any shipment in the south (in Christina Lamb's book, The Sewing Circles of Herat, five such checkpoints are said to have been within Kandahar proper, and fifty along the road from there to Spin Boldak; p.23; Kamal Matunuddin, in his book about the Taliban mentions 71 checkpoints between Chaman and Herat). So, as the legend has it, Omar, member of a poor, small clan belonging to the Hotak (Ghilzai) Pashtun tribe (his clan had just one small house in district centre Maywand) basically went up to Haji Bashir one day, said that he had had enough, said he had a heavenly manifestation-like dream that told him he must act, and equipped with some weapons and together with a tight group of comrades they delivered justice in a few cases (hanging one warlord from the barrel of a tank, again, as legend has it - and that it is legend needs to be stressed in light of Abdul Salam Zaeef's book which I referenced above, for the Taliban were apparently content with chasing away some of the commanders concerned).
Upon expanding gradually the Taliban also set about clearing the roads, the Herat-Kandahar road and also the one between Chaman (on the Pakistani border) and Kandahar. Doing this, they scored points with the people who welcomed them as warriors of justice, and, even more importantly from a political economy viewpoint, they scored points with the bazaaris (as well as some important commanders, like e.g. Mullah Naqib in Kandahar) who invested in them since they were a force that physically opened up space for business. (Hell, according to Roy Gutman's book, How we missed the story, even Burhanuddin Rabbani, Massoud and Ismail Khan saw advantages in the Taliban's rise and stability in southern Afghanistan at the early stages, with Massoud even backing the Taliban in combat against Hekmatyar's forces later on.) The Taliban acquired a lot of weapons capturing huge weapons stocks in a raid on Spin Boldak, and then came Pakistan's Central Asia "peace convoy" their way (which was then-Pakistani interior minister Naseerullah Babar's initiative). Most likely this was the time when they first seriously negotiated with the Pakistani side, and it may have proved to be a decisive twist: opening up a new dimension of support for the Taliban (politically, financially, and in terms of recruits). They held up the convoy and... they claimed at the time this was a sign of their preference for the independence of Afghanistan. But clearly they had to be negotiating their interests as well. So by this time the Taliban have turned from a grievance-based vigilante group into highway police and later into a serious fighting force that conquered most of Afghanistan. (I used a lot of information here again from the by now declassified U.S. Embassy cable message from 1994, which I earlier referred to as "the Talib source:" the cable's subject/title was officially "Finally, a talkative Talib...")
But what happened afterwards, after the fall of the Taliban?
From what I could put together, it seems that mullah Omar may have spent most of the time between the winter of 2001/2002 and July of 2004 in Uruzgan, more exactly in Deh Rawod district. Which raises the question of whether his relatives (or some of them) have really ever left that area behind, as some believe (and also that of whether Ahmed Rashid correctly named Tarin Kowt as the place they supposedly moved to in the 1980's, instead of Deh Rawod).
When the Taliban lost Uruzgan to the combination of a local uprising in Tarin Kowt and the presence of Hamid Karzai with an escort of U.S. special forces ("with a lot of air above them," as military-speak tends to refer to the availability of abundant close air support), Ahmed Karzai, Hamid's brother, had this to say to the Guardian in November, 2001:
" Mr Karzai conceded that Helmand and Zabol, the provinces to the west and east of Kandahar, were still in Taliban hands yesterday. But the fall of Oruzgan was a devastating blow: this mountainous area would have been the best place for the Taliban to hide and try to run a guerrilla war.
"Mullah Omar is from Oruzgan, and 50% of the top commanders are from there. If I had been Mullah Omar, I would have kept Oruzgan and abandoned Kandahar. Now it's too late. We control the roads and have checkpoints", he said.
Perhaps I should mention at this point that Haji Gilani, one of Hamid Karzai's major local supporters, who gave him shelter during his first days back in Afghanistan, was murdered in 2003 in Uruzgan.
Mention made of mullah Omar in Uruzgan is easy to come across in connection with two occasions. First is the bloody night of June 30/July 1, 2002, when there was a wedding held somewhere in the area of Deh Rawod, and the U.S. military decided to bomb/shoot up the place for about five hours (using e.g. AC-130s), from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., statedly in close air support to troops moving in to capture a high value target (although it feels more a like a so-called Ground Directed Interdiction attempt to me). The target was mullah Omar most likely. Both the bride and the groom died, among many others. The bride is thought to have been Mullah Anwar Akhund's daughter (who is a brother of mullah Berader, one of Omar's closest comrades). Omar is then said to have been spotted in Baghran district a bit later on (in Helmand province, north of Kajaki district, bordering on Uruzgan not far from Deh Rawod district), looking depressed, having statedly lost relatives in the above mentioned air raid. (Btw, you may read the exec. summary of a declassified report on Operation "Full Throttle" here.) Another source, then, mentions that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar might have met mullah Omar in Uruzgan in December, 2002, to discuss matters of strategy between them, between the Taliban and the Hekmatyar faction of Hizb-i-Islami.
Then came July, 2004, and something interesting happened. A certain mullah Sakhi Dad Mujahid was captured "in Dara-i-Noor, some 70 kilometres north of southern Kandahar city." The mullah had a mobile phone with him, with Omar's number stored in it. So Afghan intelligence officials made Sakhi Dad call Omar, who found out rather quickly that he should just hang up. But. He can't have been sure his position wasn't revealed, so he might have felt the need to get moving. So I would guess. And a bit later, still in July, 2004, his brother-in-law, mullah Amanullah was in fact captured, in Deh Rawod district, following a shoot-out in which an Afghan soldier died. It's an interesting twist to the story that the next trace of mullah Amanullah I found on the internet (with nothing in-between, yet) is news (June 12, 2006) of his death in the village of "Siachave" (Deh Rawod district) in another shoot-out. Now, Siachave I didn't find, but there is Syahchow instead, see the map:
As to mullah Omar, he is most likely in Quetta nowadays, along with other Taliban V.I.P. That's a place where he stayed for a while in the past already, after his eye operation, (after he was wounded in battle fighting in the ranks of Hizb-i-Islami/Khalis), joining a madrassa there** (updated, see below). And that's also one the three towns (Peshawar, Islamabad and Quetta) where many Taliban commanders sent their families immediately in the wake of their defeat in 2001. Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil (of the Kakar tribe) whom Ahmed Rashid describes as Omar's chauffeur, note-taker, translator, food-taster, and, citing Western diplomats, "messenger boy" (a.k.a. foreign minister), dependent in Rashid's view for local tribal connections and all else on Omar's support, he, with his family, went to Quetta in 2001, so that is yet another pro-Quetta argument. In March this year, mullah Obaidullah (said to have been one of two of Omar's closest comrades remaining at the time, along with mullah Berader) was captured by Pakistani authorities in a hotel there, and July this year brought the capture of four more important Talib figures there. Mullah Qahir (an Uruzgani commander) and mullah Mohibullah (Omar's close aid, a.k.a "Haji La La") were caught in the Pashtunabad district within Quetta, and Abdul Ahad Jehangirwal and Mullah Nazir (the latter a Zabul commander from Shah Joi district) were caught in Kharotabad, on the outskirts of Quetta. So it's understandable many imagine Omar is there. His friend, mullah Berader was said to have been killed in an airstrike earlier this year, in Helmand, but then in September indications seem to have come personally from him that such news were not true.
As to the rest of the three men I mentioned at the beginning of the blogpost, well, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil (pictured to the right) spectacularly surrendered in 2002. In 2005 he tried running for a place in the Afghan parliament, but lost, and since then he is rarely heard of. He calls for negotiations to put an end to Afghanistan's troubles at times, and for one reason or another seems to be regarded as an asset to be protected by the Karzai leadership.
As to Haji Bashir (of the Noorzai tribe, pictured left), he became perhaps the most important drugs trader in post-Taliban Afghanistan, if this article has it right. It may be exaggerating, but it claims that in 2002 Haji Bashir may have had a private army of around twelve thousand men, and he was obviously a power-broker of no small calibre in southern Afghanistan. Effectively, his guns may have decided that Gul Agha Sherzai could become governor of Kandahar in 2001. But Bashir was ready to work together with the in-coming Americans. He informally cooperated with them for years. There was a short interruption for reasons you can read of here; essentially he may have tired of and felt threatened by Americans' use of him in luring wanted former Taliban to Afghanistan. One of the people Haji Bashir persuaded to return was Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, and another one was Haji Birqet. Muttawakil was imprisoned upon his return, while Birqet was killed in a raid. This probably did not leave Haji Bashir in a comfortable position, and he moved, or perhaps fled, to Pakistan.
Then he had some more serious meetings with U.S. officials in Dubai after the FBI restarted contact with him, after his fleeing to Pakistan. There it was arranged that he would go for further talks to the U.S. On his eventual trip in April, 2005, he was accompanied by a former ISI colonel by the name Saitullah Khan Babar (mind you, this is not the Central Asia peace convoy and former Pakistani interior minister plus ex-NWFP governor Naseerullah Babar). And then he was arrested there. A lengthy article by Time Magazine calls him "one of the favorite warlords of fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar." Well, almost right. One should add that Omar used to be one of Haji Bashir's favourite soldiers as well. But when the defeat of the Taliban came, Haji Bashir would have been ready, it seems, to abandon strong links to the Taliban leadership. Now he is under arrest of course.
The reason for his arrest seems to be, if Time has it right, that a draft version of a 2004 White House list of the Top 10 most wanted drugs traffickers failed to include anyone from Afghanistan, and so some people (including Robert B. Charles, then assistant secretary of state) thought that such a list might not look representative enough. And Haji Bashir's name was the one that quickly came to everyone's mind, including to his. It's difficult to judge the instrumental rationality of this really - but you can read a blogpost just as lengthy as this one, from someone far better qualified to address the Afghan narcotics issue, on the Afghan narcotics issue - here (part of a whole series).
I just need to finish with a disclaimer now: I tried to get the facts right, but one bumps into so many contradictions and inconsistencies, it's difficult to even hope that a clear majority of the facts are accurate. They can be sort of accurate, though. Hopefully they are, but I'm glad to receive any insightful remarks from anyone.
* Update, October 11: Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy! Above there I wrote that Omar married his three wives still before his movement started getting organised in Maywand. Incorrect, and Ahmed Rashid's book makes that clear - I just failed to take that into account. Rashid says Omar married his second wife Guljana in 1995! That means he married his third wife, who, if Rashid is right about that, is from Uruzgan, later than that, perhaps in 1996, or even later!
** Update, October 11: The eye operation referred to happened in 1989 according to Rashid.
*** Updated on February 20, 2010: I am now inclined to say, having encountered some more relevant sources, that mullah Omar is from Uruzgan.


wape said...

Remek összeállítás Péter, gratulálok. Egyetlen kifogásom van vele. Hogy tényként kezeled a mozgalom születését. Tudom ezt írod: The Taliban's story may have started there, but of course not every detail is clear how. Ami azt sugallja (legalábbi számomra, hogy a folytatás a nagy része igaz. Pedig a kritikának ott kellett volna kezdődnie, hogy ki a forrás. A távirat szerint egy bennfentes. És mindjárt gyanússá teszi az illetőt, hogy úgy próbálja előadni a történteket, mintha a pakiknak semmi köze nem lett volna a dologhoz. A rejtélyes tálib mintha felcserélné a dolgokat. A logika nekem azt diktálná, hogy előbb Maiwand és Kandahár szereljem le a csekkpointokat és a hadurakat, de ő is azt mondja, hogy nem, először átmentek K.on és a város és a határ között szerelték le a rosszakat, majd utána mentek Spin Boldakba.
Na ehhez képest a mainstream nézet, és ezt meg kellett volna azért említsed, az, hogy Spin Boldakban bukkannak fel (rejtély, hogy honnan) elfoglalják a depotot és utána vonulnak Kandahár ellen. Ott történik az akasztás a tank csövére Így írja le Rashid, sőt még részletesebben Anthony Davis William Maley (szerk.): Fundamentalsim Reborn c. könyvében pp. 46-48. Spin Boldakot október 12, Kandahárt nov 3-án foglalták el. Alternatív forrsáként egyébként ott vannak az amerikai külügy más táviratai is: Pl. ez ugyanezt mondja egy nappal később, nov. 3-án!:
Itt van még egy pár doku: http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB97/index.htm

Lehet, hogy az öreg tálib verziója a jó, az a baj, hogy úgy adtad elő mintha ez lenne az elfogadott, általános nézet. Bevallom erről az verzióról most olvastam először. A másik, hogy az ember hátsó szándéka láttán (nem Paki megbízásból jövünk, ennek ugye később is számos bizonyítéka akadt) gyanút kellett volna fogjál, legalábbis annyit, hogy e sztori mellett ismerteted a mainstreamet is.
De ettől függetlenül remekmű volt a mai posztod.

Péter MARTON said...

Szia, Péter!
Köszi a dícséretet, meg a megjegyzéseket is. Nekem annyi észrevételem lenne, hogy volt viszont itt részedről értelmezési hiba, mármint, hogy beleláttál az én pósztomba olyasmit, amit nem írtam bele.
A tálib forrás, akit idézek, valóban "takarít" a pakisztániaknak (nem kicsit), de én ezt tőle nem vettem át! Ebből tehát nem lett részemről tévedés. A sztorijából csak azt vettem át, amit relevánsnak tartottam, önkényesen szemezgetve.
Hogy Spin Boldakban bukkantak volna fel a tálibok először, azt az alapján, amennyit tudok, nem hiszem. A Kandahar-Chaman útvonal megtísztítására pedig mindenképpen Májvánd környékének a megkaparintása után került csak sor. A történetnek arról a részéről én egyszerűen nem írtam, mert nem erről szólt az írásom.
Csak egy áttekintést adtam a tálibok eredetéről nagy vonalakban, amennyi ahhoz kellett, hogy Haji Bashar szerepére rávilágítsak. Ez meg dióhéjban úgy hangzik, hogy a Májvánd környékén lezavart rögtönzött bíráskodás meg hasonlók után egy-két gondosan kiválasztott checkpointot lenyomtak a határ felé vezető úton. Hogy ekkor a pakisztániak teljes mellszélességgel már mögöttük lettek volna, azt túlzásnak érzem. Üzleti körök szálltak be a támogatásukba először (azok meg transznacionálisak, nem simán országhoz köthetők). Mikor bizonyították, hogy releváns játékosok lettek, akkor Babarék Pakisztánban elkezdtek figyelni rájuk, a Közép-Ázsia-konvoj után pedig már mindenképpen el is lett rendezve a dolog stratégiailag is.
Na, csak azért írom ezt, mert azért itt úgy bíráltál egy forrást, hogy nem nézed meg, egészen pontosan mit mondott az illető (jelen esetben én), hanem azt azért ki is egészítetted vélelmekkel, részben a hivatkozott források nézeteivel.