Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Legend of Omar and a New and Improved Taliban

Mullah Mohammed Omar is the stuff of legend and he knows it. In fact it could be argued he actively cultivates it. I mean lets face it, becoming a Messiah isn't an easy gig. To get there you really have to play hard and long to the guys who tell the stories around the campfires.

He is an ethnic Pashtun from a poor family who made his bones fighting the Soviets during their occupation of Afghanistan. According to the tales swirling around him he was a deadly accurate marksman and accomplished at taking out enemy tanks. During one engagement--the exact battle and year is a bit of a mystery--he lost an eye to shrapnel.

In the utter chaos that followed the Soviet withdrawal and the collapse of the Afghan government they'd backed, he and 30 some odd students, or Taliban, from his madrassah began taking on local war lords. The word on the street was he had been inspired by a dream during which a woman begged him to end the deadly anarchy gripping the nation. She assured him he would have the help of Allah. He and his fighters rolled through the countryside supported by much of the population who was tired to being pushed around and exploited first by the government and then the thugs who replaced them.

In April of 1996, in keeping with his nearly mythical stature, he entered the Mosque of the Cloak of the Prophet Mohammed in the city of Kandahar. There he removed the cloak, which supposedly belonged to the Prophet himself and put it on. According to folklore, anyone who retrieved the garment would become a great leader of Muslims. As a result he was given the title of Commander of the Faithful of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan by his followers. Yes, at that point, the guy was approaching Kim Jong-il territory.

In September of that year his forces took Kabul and the nation became almost completely controlled by the Taliban. Omar was named, Head of the Supreme Council and became the de facto head of state, or in this case some would say, the Godfather.

Knowing a hit can come from anywhere and at any time, he made sure there weren't any official photographs taken of him. To this day a variety of portraits are scattered across the media and no one is completely sure if any of them are really Mullah Mohammed Omar. He remains such a mystery that even physical descriptions of him vary wildly, the only constant being the lack of the one eye.

In 2001 he was forced to take to the hills when the United States, Great Britain and other allied forces came swooping in looking for Osama bin Laden. In the initial days of the bombing his ten year old son was killed.

He has been on the move ever since. He was reported to have been killed at least twice, but in keeping with immortality neither rumor was true.

So what does all this have to do with the price of poppies?

NBC is reporting the Mullah is preparing for a comeback. He apparently issued a statement on Tuesday, informing everyone the Taliban is far more tolerant now days and not nearly as crazy as everyone has been led to believe.

According to Mr. Omar the Taliban supports "modern" education because, "(it is) a fundamental need of every society in the present time." He also said he is all for girls getting an education so long as they are sequestered in separate schools from boys and taught, "according to Islam's Shariah." NBC quotes an unidentified Taliban spokesman as saying, "We learnt a lot from the past mistakes and would not repeat those if (we) came into power." The unnamed spokesman even went so far as to say the Taliban has formed a commission on education so no one would be able to say they weren't in favor of it.

In addition Omar said he wanted good relations with the world and the Taliban would respect other ethnic and religious communities within Afghanistan.

In a fit of kindness he was quoted as saying, "We consider our brothers and give him welcome whoever openly expresses regret about his support for occupation." In other words, we aren't going to cut off your fucking heads if you publicly apologize for helping the allies.

One has to think there will be prominent exceptions to that pledge, starting with current Afghan President, Hamid Karzai. Obviously, there are sinners and then there are sinners.

Omar also appealed to all those opposed to the current government to follow the Taliban code of conduct by refusing to mis-use jihad for personal reasons or profit. He failed to mention if the code of conduct would continue to include attempts to blow the heads off of 15 year old girls like Milala Yousafzai, but he probably leaves such details for others. Big picture people usually don't bother themselves with day to day minutiae

Finally he said the Taliban were willing to share power, but were completely opposed to a division of Afghanistan, ala the Korean Peninsula. He also flatly stated his group would not participate in elections scheduled for next year because he feels Washington has already put the fix in.

A spokesperson for President Karzai said there wouldn't be an official response to all this warm and fuzzy reconciliation stuff.

Well there shouldn't be any surprise there. Karzai can scream all he wants for American and other troops to vacate the country, but he has to realize his government, or any other fairly elected one sits on a precipice once they are gone. He is going to have to make a deal with Omar, but he can't seem too eager, or desperate.

On the other hand Karzai must also know Mullah Mohammed Omar isn't putting this information out there because he thinks the Taliban might return to power. He is saying it because he is convinced they are going to and he is simply trying to make the process go a little easier. It is his way of saying, "Resistance is futile, but don't worry we won't be so bad this time around." Think of our old pal Adolf emerging from some Alpine hideaway in 1950 or so and telling Germany and the world, "Trust me."

We went to Afghanistan in 2001 armed with a righteous anger and the goal of getting Osama bin Laden. It quickly morphed into a war to purge the nation of the Taliban.

It turned out bin Laden wasn't even there. Unfortunately the Taliban still are. According to Wikipedia as of last Friday 3,274 coalition troops have died fighting them.

The terrible gut feeling is that as soon as we leave they'll be back exactly where they were twelve years ago. If and when that happens, cold reality will render each and every one of those coalition deaths moot.

We also have to face the more than even odds Mullah Mohammed Omar and his boys aren't going to be a bit different next year from what they were a little over a decade ago. He and some unidentified mouthpiece can say whatever they want this week, but spin is spin and we all know it.

The truth is legends don't bend. In the end it is an all or nothing business and one you have to be good at. After all, you don't become a Commander of the Faithful if you aren't.

sic vita est


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