Reading this interview with Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, editors of Abdul Salaam Zaeef's auto-biography, My Life with the Taliban, I stopped to ponder Felix Kuehn's reply to a question at one point because it reminded me of something very telling to quote. Felix Kuehn describes how many Taliban may generally view Osama bin Laden:
"... if you talk to a lot of Taliban members, they’re going to voice doubt over and over again about “How can it be, that that guy who was sitting in our mountains and didn’t even have a cellphone, did this?” And it’s not just their rhetoric; it’s really a broad fraction of people that doubt [bin Laden] did it."
The nature of the "information environment" under the Taliban regime, shaped by a number of fundamental factors such as unquestioned trust in the movement's leaders, illiteracy, the lack of functioning media, and informal practice of rule resembling governance only in traces, prevented information of strategic relevance from reaching a great number of people. And notably, information did not even get to them through the video messages sent by Bin Laden or al-Zawahiri to the Middle East and the West. Bin Laden, of course, was not someone without a cellphone, and this quote from Abdel Bari Atwan's The Secret History of al Qaeda might be telling illustration of that. (Abdel Bari Atwan is editor-in-chief of Al-Quds al-Arabi, and he was there to interview Osama bin Laden at his Tora Bora base back in 1996 when he noted the following.)
"As I was showed around the lower base I discovered that, in contrast with the primitive accomodation, it was well-equipped with the latest technology and powered by its own small generator. Here were computers and up-to-the-minute communications equipment. Bin Laden had access to the internet which was not then ubiquitous as it is now, and said: "These days the world is becoming like a small village."The modernity of Bin Laden's communications network was quite at odds with the austerity recommended by the more extreme forms of Islamic fundamentalism and in particular that of his hosts, the Taliban. One of his aides laughed at this observation, and said the base was a 'republic within a republic.' "