No More Mullah



The death of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, could mark a significant blow not only to the militant group’s long-standing insurgency, but to its future as a united and potent force.

The Afghan government’s confirmation that Mullah Omar died in April 2013 in Pakistan comes amid deepening divisions within the Taliban and the growing influence of rival militant groups like the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan. Without its reclusive, one-eyed leader, the Taliban will find it difficult to prevent potential recruits from joining IS and other militant groups.

Power Struggle

Even before news broke of Mullah Omar’s death, there was mounting speculation of a power struggle within the Taliban, which has had only one leader since its formation in the early 1990s.

The leadership struggel centers on two competing commanders: Taliban deputy leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansur and Mullah Omar’s eldest son, Mullah Mohammad Yuqub. 

According to reports, the 26-year-old Yuqub is said to be ready to take over the reins. Yuqub is said to have the backing of field commanders and the Taliban’s rank-and-file. Standing in his way is the powerful Mansur, who is said to have considerable clout among the political wing of the militant group.

“There is already a nasty power struggle within the Taliban,” says Graeme Smith, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group in Kabul. “That power struggle will get more vicious after Omar’s death.”


In recent months, a growing number of disaffected Taliban field commanders have called on the leadership to provide proof that Mullah Omar is still alive.

Years without any video or audio recordings had led to growing speculation that the shadowy militant leader might be seriously ill, if not dead. The Taliban, in an apparent attempt to dispel speculation that he had died, in April published a biography of Mullah Omar on its official website to commemorate Mullah Omar’s apparent 19th year as supreme leader. The bio described Mullah Omar as being actively involved in “jihadi activities.”

But the absence of proof that Omar was indeed alive apparently led several senior Taliban commanders to defect to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an extremist group that is based in northern Afghanistan and earlier this year pledged allegiance to the IS group, as well as to IS itself.

Splinter groups have also grown in number and have become emboldened in recent years. In fact, Fidai Mahaz, one of the extremist Taliban splinter groups, announced a week before Kabul’s July 29 announcement that Mullah Omar was dead and had been replaced by his deputy.

“We’ve seen a number of defections to the IMU in the north, former TTP [Pakistani Taliban] flying IS flags in the east, and defections of some factions in the south,” Smith says. “Different Taliban groups are breaking away from the central Taliban organization. His death is going to fuel the factionalism that we are already seeing.”

Smith predicts that for this reason the Taliban is unlikely to confirm Mullah Omar’s death, and will try to maintain the myth of his existence.

Change The Battlefield

Mullah Omar’s death could have an adverse effect on the Taliban’s military campaign. The loss of field commanders and rank-and-file fighters to splinter groups and rival militant groups could deprive the Taliban of troop numbers and leadership on the battlefield.

“Mullah Omar’s death loosens the command and control over the insurgency,” Smith says. “It’s likely to make field commanders feel more independent. The political behavior of the mid-ranking Taliban military commanders becomes much more important because they’re no longer just following orders but thinking for themselves.”

Despite Mullah Omar’s death more than two years ago, the Taliban has waged a fierce offensive against government forces in the country’s north, making impressive military advances.

Abdul Waheed Wafa, the director of the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University, says that if Mullah Omar is dead, then the Taliban must receive “huge credit” for weathering the potential pitfalls of his death on the group’s military campaign.

“Three years ago, the Taliban were under more pressure but today it’s a different story,” he says. “His death will weaken the Taliban movement but it is up to the Afghan government to make use of the divisions in the group.”

Peace Talks

Mullah Omar’s death comes just days before a second round of peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government is scheduled in Pakistan.

But his death could delay or even jeopardize the talks aimed at ending the 14-year insurgency. Some observers have suggested that it would weaken the Taliban’s bargaining position and give the upper hand to Kabul.

But others suggest it would remove a figurehead for the group to rally around and take collective responsibility for the negotiations.

“It will make the peace process complicated,” says the Afghanistan Center’s Wafa. “It will be difficult for this process to find a central party to negotiate with.”

There are deep divisions within the group over a potential political settlement with Kabul.

The split within the Taliban between those for and against talks has been worsened by the emergence of a leadership tussle within the group. Mullah Omar’s son is believed to be against the talks while rival Mansur is credited with bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table in Pakistan last month.

In his last purported message, made on July 15, Mullah Omar recognized the peace talks as “legitimate,” saying that the goal of the process was an “end to occupation” by foreign forces.



Who Are These Hooligans?

Benasir B

Benazir Bhutto


Quaint Quotes From The Truthful Tome


by Steve Coll



Mohammed Zia-ul-haq, the dictator of Pakistan at that time, about the early 1980s, encouraged the financing and construction of hundreds of madressas, or religious schools, along the Afghan frontier to educate young Afghans ~ as well as Pakistanis ~ in Islam’s precepts and to prepare some of them for anticommunist jihad.  The border madrassas formed a kind of Islamic ideological picket fence between Pakistan and communist Afghanistan.  Gradually Zia embraced jihad as a strategy.  He saw the legions of Islamic fighters gathering on the Afghan frontier in the early 1980s as a secret tactical weapon.  They accepted martyrdom’s glories.  Their faith could trump the superior firepower of the godless Soviet occupiers…




Osama Bin Laden’s “role in Afghanistan ~ and he was about twenty-four, twenty-five years old at the time ~ was to build roads in the country to make easy the delivery of weapons to the mujahedin,” according to Ahmed Badeeb.  The Afghans regarded Bin Laden as “a nice and generous person who has money and good contacts with Saudi government officials…”


For centuries religious faith in Afghanistan had reflected the country’s political geography.  It was diverse, decentralized, and rooted in local personalities.  The territory that became Afghanistan had been crossed and occupied by ancient Buddhists, ancient Greeks (led by Alexander the Great), mystics, saints, Sikhs, and Islamic warriors, many of whom left monuments and decorated graves.  Afghanistan’s forbidding mountain ranges and isolated valleys ensured that no single dogmatic creed, spiritual or political, could take hold of all its people.  As conquerors riding east from Persia and south from Central Asia’s steppes gradually established Islam as the dominant faith, and as they returned from stints of occupation in Hindu India, they brought with them eclectic strains of mysticism and saint worship that blended comfortably with Afghan tribalism and clan politics.  The emphasis was on loyalty to the local Big Man.  The Sufi strain of Islam became prominent in Afghanistan.  Sufism taught personal contact with the divine through mystical devotions.  Its leaders established orders of the initiated and were worshiped as saints and chieftains.  Their elaborately decorated shrines dotted the country and spoke to a celebratory, personalized, ecstatic strain in traditional Islam…


In Pakistan civilians and the army were sharing power, opportunistic politicians debated every issue, and a free press clamored with dissent.  Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister was Benazir Bhutto, at thirty-six a beautiful, charismatic, and self-absorbed politician with no government experience.  She was her country’s first democratically elected leader in more than a decade.  She had taken office with American support, and she cultivated American connections.  Raised in a gilded world of feudal aristocratic entitlements, Bhutto had attended Radcliffe College at Harvard University as an undergraduate and retained many friends in Washington.  She saw her American allies as a counterweight to her enemies in the Pakistani army command ~ an officer corps led by Zia that had sent her father to the gallows a decade earlier…


Taliban were as familiar to southern Pashtun villagers in Afghanistan as frocked Catholic priests were in the Irish countryside, and they played a similar role.  They taught schoolchildren, led prayers, comforted the dying, and mediated local disputes.  They studied in hundreds of small madrassas memorizing the Koran, and they lived modestly on the charity of villagers.  As a young adult a Talib might migrate to a larger madrassa in an Afghan city or across the border in Pakistan to complete his Koranic studies.  Afterward he might return to a village school and mosque as a full-fledged mullah, a “giver” of knowledge now rather than a seeker.  In a region unfamiliar with formal government, these religious travelers provided a loose Islamic civil service.  The Taliban were memorialized in traditional Afghan folk songs, which sometimes made teasing, skeptical reference to their purity; the students were traditionally regarded as so chase that Pashtun women might not bother to cover themselves when they came around for meals…


Mullah Omar


By the early 1990s, Mohammed Omar had returned to religious studies.  He served as a teacher and prayer leader in a tiny, poor village of about twenty-five families called Singesar, twenty miles outside of Kandahar in a wide, fertile valley of wheat fields and vineyards.  In exchange for religious instruction, villagers provided him with food.  He apparently had no other reliable source of income, although he retained ties to the relatively wealthy trader Bashar.  He shuttled between the village’s small mud-brick religious school and its small mud-brick mosque.  He lived in a modest house about two hundred yards from the village madrassa


Benazir Bhutto was suddenly the matron of a new Afghan faction.  The Taliban might provide a battering ram to open trade routes to Central Asia, as she hoped, yet they also presented complications…

Bhutto said that in the months that followed the first meeting between ISI and the Taliban, the requests from Pakistani intelligence for covert aid to their new clients grew gradually.  “I became slowly, slowly sucked into it,” Bhutto remembered.  “It started out with a little fuel, then it became machinery” and spare parts for the Taliban’s captured airplanes and tanks.  Next ISI made requests for trade concessions that would enrich both the Taliban and the outside businessmen who supplied them.  “Then it became money” direct from the Pakistani treasury, Bhutto recalled…

“I started sanctioning the money,” Bhutto continued to recall.  “Once I gave the go-ahead that they should get money, I don’t know how much money they were ultimately given…  I know it was a lot.  It was just carte blanche…”


Omar summoned more than one thousand Pushtun religious scholars and tribal leaders to Kandahar for a two-week grand assembly in the early weeks of spring 1996.  It was the most overt political meeting of Pushtuns under Taliban leadership since the movement’s birth.  Omar chose his ground and his symbols carefully.  At the meeting’s climax he called the delegates to the great stone-and-tile square across from the Kandahar government’s house.  Within the square’s gates stood the tomb of the eighteenth-century king Amed Shah Durrani and the tile-inlaid Mosque of the Cloak of the Holy Prophet.

Omar climbed to the mosque’s roof and unveiled the holy cloak.  As the crowd roared their approval, he wrapped himself dramatically in the relic.  The assembled delegates formally ratified him as Amir-ul-Momineen, “Commander of the Faithful.”  They created and sanctified a new name for the expanding territory under Taliban control:  The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan…  Surrounded by the symbolic remnants of a lost Durrani empire, they had proclaimed their own one-eyed king…


On February 23, 1998, Osama bin Laden summoned newspaper and television reporters to his original Khost camp, the scene of his 1980s jihad glory.  At a table draped with promotional bunting and equipped with microphones he announced a new enterprise: the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders.  Bin Laden had worked for hours on the front’s manifesto.  Its contents were dictated over his satellite telephone to editors at a prominent London-based Arabic-language newspaper.  An angry litany of anti-American threats and grievances, the manifesto was signed by militant leaders from Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kashmir.  Its publication represented bin Laden’s first explicit attempt to lead an international coalition of Islamic radicals in violent attacks against the United States…

O B Laden



In their classified reports and assessments, analysts in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center described al Queda by 1999 as an extraordinarily diverse and dispersed enemy.  The mid-1990s courtroom trials in the World Trade Center bombing and related cases, and evidence from the Africa bombing investigations, had revealed the organization as a paradox:  tightly supervised at the top but very loosely spread at the bottom.  By 1999 it had become common at the CIA to describe al Qaeda as a constellation or a series of concentric circles.  Around the core bin Laden leadership group in Afghanistan ~ the main target of the CIA’s covert snatch operations ~ lay protective rings of militant regional allies.  These included the Taliban, elements of Pakistani intelligence, Uzbek and Chechen exiles, extremist anti-Shia groups in Pakistan, and Kashmiri radicals.  Beyond these lay softer circles of financial, recruiting, and political support, international charities, proselytizing groups, and radical Islamic mosques, education centers and political parties from Indonesia to Yemen, from Saudi Arabia to the Gaza strip, from Europe to the United States.

Al Queda operated as an organization in more than sixty countries, the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center calculated by late 1999.  Its formal, sworn, hard-core membership might number in the hundreds.  Thousands more joined allied militias such as the Taliban or the Chechen rebel groups or Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.  These volunteers could be recruited for covert terrorist missions elsewhere if they seemed qualified.  New jihadists turned up each week at al Qaeda-linked mosques and recruitment centers worldwide.  They were inspired by fire-breathing local imams, satellite television news, or Internet sites devoted to jihadist violence in Palestine, Chechnya, and Afghanistan.  Many of the Arab volunteers from countries such as Algeria or Yemen were poor, eager, and undereducated; they had more daring than ability and could barely afford the airfare to Pakistan.  Yet some were middle class and college-educated.  A few ~ like the four men who arrived secretly in Kandahar in the autumn of 1999: Atta, Jarrah, al-Shebbi, and Binalshibh ~ carried passports and visas that facilitated travel to Europe and the United States.  These relatively elite volunteers moved like self-propelled shooting stars through al Qaeda’s global constellation…


Anglophilic education, a vast and mobile business diaspora, satellite television, a free domestic press, and the lively, open traditions of Pakistan’s dominant Punjabi culture still insulated its society from the most virulent strains of political Islam.  The Punjabi liberals who mainly ran Pakistan’s government resented the fearful, nattering lectures they heard from former Clinton administration officials such as Strobe Talbott, who spoke publicly about the dangers of a Taliban-type takeover in Pakistan.  Yet even these liberals acknowledged readily by early 200l that two decades of official clandestine support for regional jihadist militias had changed Pakistan.  Thousands of young men in Quetta, Peshawar, and Karachi had now been inculcated in the tenets of suicide warfare.  The country’s main religious parties ~ harmless debating societies and social service agencies in the first decades after partition ~ had become permanent boards of directors for covert jihadist wars.  They were inflamed by ambition, enriched with charity funds, and influenced by radical ideologies imported from the Middle East…


Nor did the United States have a strategy for engagement, democratization, secular education, and economic development among the peaceful but demoralized majority populations of the Islamic world.  Instead, Washington typically coddled undemocratic and corrupt Muslim governments, even as these countries’ frustrated middle classes looked increasingly to conservative interpretations of Islam for social values and political ideas.  In this way America unnecessarily made easier, to at least a small extent, the work of al Qaeda recruiters…


In memory of

Benazir Bhutto