The rise and fall of the Taliban

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By Senator Rehman Malik

The increasingly perilous situation in Afghanistan is leading towards civil war among various mujahedeen factions including the Taliban. It looks like the US will permanently withdraw military support being provided to the Afghan government, which obviously means a challenge for the present government. The cycle of troubles connected to Afghanistan has always brought common troubles to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan has suffered in the past because of uncertainty and wars in Afghanistan. It looks like efforts are made by certain anti-Pakistan forces to once again push the Afghan war to Pakistan hence we need to exercise vigilance to avoid this.

This present situation reminds me of the beginning of a winter season while I was sitting at office; my operator connected me through the old bureaucratic landline black phone to Gen Naseer Ullah Babar, the then Interior Minister of Pakistan who asked me to come to his office and I found him a bit excited on the phone. I proceeded to the Minister’s office of Narcotics Divisions in Blue Area. Upon my arrival, we moved into the conference hall where I was introduced to Mullah Omar who was present there wearing his Turban with one defective eye. I found that Mullah Omar and two other Taliban accomplices seemed confident enough to take over control of Qandahar. Gen Babar was pretty close to the Mujahideen including Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who actually was brought up by Gen Babar when he was the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Gen Babar told me that he had earlier had been assigned by Z A Bhutto to look after the friends from Afghanistan and so over time, as Major General he became the Special Assistant in the first PPP government and thereafter he became the Interior Minister and fully utilised his influence to create the Taliban and had a real good hold on Afghan leaders.

US President Joe Biden (right) meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House last week.

Soon, he was able to gather the entire leadership of Taliban over lunch along with some Western diplomats. He was assisted by Maj Gen Zulfiqar and Maj Gen Abdul Aziz who became famous after their role in the coup against PM Nawaz Sharif. I worked with Gen Babar closely and witnessed the emergence of the Taliban against Northern Taliban, hence, he decided to consolidate a group against the Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Masood who was operating under the control of India and Iran. Later on, the Northern Alliance also started getting the support of the US. The Taliban not only resisted the Northern Alliance but the Taliban along with our support took over the control of Afghanistan as well. The Taliban government was recognised by the USA and Saudi Arabia as they were honoured by President George Bush senior in the White House who had also dealt with the Afghanistan desk as former Deputy Director of CIA.

It was a huge blunder by the Taliban to push Gulbuddin Hekmatyar away and invite Osama Bin Laden to assist them. Hekmatyar got exiled after the Taliban came to power in 1996 and drove him out of the country. Around the same time, Osama Bin Laden made his entry in Afghanistan, aboard a chartered flight on May 18, 1996 and forged a close relationship with Mullah Omar. Osama Bin Laden was already on the CIA radar from Sudan but he managed to get out of Sudan and reached Afghanistan via Egypt. He was able to sabotage surveillance and even got the fuel for his C-130. His friendship with Mullah Omar was in fact the beginning of the downfall of the Taliban regime. During that time, the life and circumstances here in my own country had forced me to flee the country via Afghanistan after a life attempt on me. This was the time when Afghanistan was under the full control of the Taliban.

A friend of mine from Peshawar who had also close relations with the Taliban facilitated me to travel through Afghanistan and helped me in flying to Europe. I had observed myself that the Pakistani Taliban were in an advanced warzone when I was there under the cover of a journalist. The downfall of the Taliban started after 9/11 when Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and I were in exile. She had assessed that the US attack on Afghanistan was imminent to get Osama Bin Laden and she asked me to use my old contacts to avert this forthcoming war as this could spread around both sides of the border. I contacted a very close associate of the Taliban who was even in direct contact with Mullah Omar and was also close to some important Middle Eastern countries.

Experts say that Taliban feel emboldened by the US’ decision to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by September

My friend spoke to Mullah Omar and he agreed to hand over Osama Bin Laden to a third country for trial. When Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto conveyed this to the Americans through a friendly country, this proposal was declined with the observation that it was too late. It was around the same time when Gen Musharraf was forced to agree to all the demands of the Americans. Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and I could not avert this war; the Afghan friend is still a well-respected political leader of Afghanistan and perhaps he might become the head of interim government soon if all stakeholders agree.

Ayman Al-Zawahiri (another hard-core terrorist) who succeeded Osama as head of the Al Qaeda was also found to be hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas; the world must be aware of who Al Zawahiri was as he was involved in the murder of Anwar Sadat upon orders from Islamic Jihad Group. After he graduated as a surgeon from Egypt, in 1980–81, Al Zawahiri arrived in Pakistan as a relief worker with the Red Crescent in Peshawar, Pakistan, where he treated refugees affected by the Afghan War. During that time he made several crossborder trips into Afghanistan to conspire for the killing of Anwar Sadat, where he witnessed the warfare firsthand.

I had then arrested young Al Zawahiri who managed to escape with the help of the director of Red Crescent Cairo; uncle of Yousif Ramzi, namely Zahid Al Sheikh and elder brother of Khalid Al Sheikh. Al Zawahiri is one of the most dangerous terrorists and may reemerge if he is still alive. The triangular bond of Afghan Taliban, TTP and Al Qaeda grew at the cost of defeat of the Taliban/Zaliman unity whereas Hekmatyar got refuge in Iran and Osama Bin Laden managed to escape via Tora Bora.

The rise and fall of Taliban on both sides is now history and in fact, the original hardcore leaders are the Haqqanis. The wheel of time is very strange and time itself chooses the destinies of the nation and individuals.

Taliban growth was phenomenal and now they are no more like the old united Taliban. They have forgotten how Pakistan brought them up and trained them. Unfortunately, today’s Taliban leadership is closer to India instead.

Pakistan has given its blood, refuge to economic support and assistance to Afghanistan, and now when Pakistan should have been honoured, the Taliban have joined hands with its enemies. All the Afghan stakeholders need to use their abilities to bring peace to their country.

(The writer is a PPP Senator, former Interior Minister of Pakistan, and Chairman of think tank “Global Eye” and Senate Standing Committee on Interior. He can be reached at: rmalik1212@gmail.com, Twitter @Senrehmanmalik

The views expressed are solely mine and do not necessarily represent the views of my party.)