Its subject is: "FINALLY, A TALKATIVE TALIB: ORIGINS AND MEMBERSHIP OF THE RELIGIOUS STUDENTS' MOVEMENT".
(Note that GOP means Government of Pakistan; NWFP is Pakistan's North West Frontier Province.)
1. CONFIDENTIAL -- ENTIRE TEXT.
2. SUMMARY: A TALIBAN INSIDER SAYS THE MOVEMENT IS NOT SUPPORTED BY FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS, BUT DOES HAVE CONNECTIONS TO PASHTUNS IN PAKISTAN AND, VIA MADRASAS, CONSERVATIVE PAKISTANI RELIGIOUS PARTIES. THE TALIBAN, HE SAYS, DO NOT WISH TO INTERFERE WITH THE SHI'A AND WILL PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF ETHNIC MINORITIES. THE RELIGIOUS STUDENTS DO NOT APPEAR ADVERSE TO ELECTIONS, BUT ONLY IN THE CONTEXT OF AN ISLAMIC GOVERNMENT RULING THROUGH SHARIAH LAW. ONCE THERE IS GREATER STABILITY IN AFGHANISTAN AND REFUGEES HAVE BEEN REPATRIATED, A NATIONAL SHURA AND PROVINCIAL SHURAS COULD BE ELECTED, WITH THE TALIBAN SHURA DETERMINING WHO COULD RUN FOR OFFICE. THE TALIBAN DESIRE GOOD RELATIONS WITH THE U.S. AND THE U.N., WHICH THEY PERCEIVE AS UNBIASED, BUT DOUBT THE MOTIVATIONS OF SAUDI ARABIA AND THE PAKISTANI GOVERNMENT. END SUMMARY.
Shura is an Arabic word for "consultation". The 159th verse of the 3rd Sura of the Koran orders Mohammed to take counsel with believers. The name of the 42nd Sura of the Koran, the word Shura is now often used to indicate some kind of parliamentary body in Islamic countries.
3. POLOFF WAS CONTACTED FEBRUARY 16 BY [redacted] WHO CLAIMED TO HAVE A GOOD FRIEND AMONG THE SENIOR LEADERSHIP OF THE TALIBAN. [redacted] WHO SAID HE LIVED "JUST ACROSS THE BORDER" FROM THE TALIBAN OFFICIAL, [redacted] NOTED THAT [redacted] WAS VISITING ISLAMABAD, AND SUGGESTED A MEETING. [redacted] ADDED THAT [redacted] WAS TIPPED TO BECOME A "SENIOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS OFFICIAL" FOR THE TALIBAN, AND WAS IN ISLAMABAD FOR INTRODUCTORY AND LOW-KEY CONTACTS WITH THE U.N. AND OTHER "FRIENDLY ELEMENTS" AND VERY MUCH DESIRED TO MEET REPRESENTATIVES OF THE U.S.
4. POLOFF MET WITH [redacted] AND [redacted] FEBRUARY 17. ALTHOUGH [redacted] SPOKE SOME ENGLISH, FOR MOST OF THE CONVERSATION HE RELIED ON [redacted] TO TRANSLATE HIS PASHTO. [redacted] BEGAN THE CONVERSATION BY ASKING THAT THE MEETING BE KEPT CONFIDENTIAL. HE NOTED THAT PRESS REPORTS WERE SUGGESTING ERRONEOUSLY THAT THE TALIBAN WERE SUBJECT TO FOREIGN INFLUENCE AND THAT THESE ALLEGATIONS COULD HAVE A NEGATIVE IMPACT ON THE TALIBAN'S EFFORTS TO BRING PEACE TO AFGHANISTAN. THE TALIBAN LEADERSHIP HAD ISSUED STRICT INSTRUCTIONS THAT MEETINGS WITH FOREIGN REPRESENTATIVES -- WHICH EASILY COULD BE MISCONSTRUED AND PLAYED UP BY THE TALIBAN'S ENEMIES -- SHOULD BE AVOIDED, [redacted] SAID. HOWEVER, SINCE THE UNITED STATES WAS AN IMPORTANT AND UNBIASED FRIEND, [redacted] SAID HE HAD DECIDED TO MAKE INITIAL CONTACT.
It wouldn't be good for the Taliban to be seen as puppets of a foreign interest, and, from the very beginning of this series, we have seen that they did not appear to be anyone's puppets.
But, to what extent were they supplied, influenced, and perhaps even steered or manipulated by foreign interests?
Does a foreign interest need absolute obedience in all questions? Or, does it only need an acceptable Taliban policy on key issues?
If the latter, could bringing a degree of security to the Central Asia Road be worth whatever other price that foreign interest might pay to have the Taliban in power?
As long as the Central Asia Road was secure, does it really matter if the Taliban know where they are getting support from, and does it really matter if they bite the hand that is feeding them?
ORIGINS OF THE TALIBAN
5. [redacted] OUTLINED FOR POLOFF THE ORIGINS OF THE TALIBAN MOVEMENT. [redacted] AND A RESIDENT OF THE MAROOF DISTRICT OF KANDAHAR, [redacted] SAID HE HAD BEEN IN AN EXCELLENT POSITION TO OBSERVE THE RISE OF THE TALIBAN. [redacted] AND WHILE [redacted] ADMITTED THAT HE WAS NOT AN ORIGINAL MEMBER OF THE TALIBAN, HE CLAIMED TO BE VERY FAMILIAR WITH ALL THE MAJOR PLAYERS.
6. [redacted] SAID THE TALIBAN BEGAN IN THE MEIWAND DISTRICT OF KANDAHAR, AT THE MADRASA OF A PROMINENT TRADER, HAJI BASHAR. HAJI BASHAR HAD BEEN A HIZB-I-ISLAMI (KHALIS) COMMANDER DURING THE JEHAD, AND ONE OF HIS SOLDIERS WAS A POOR MAN NAMED MOHAMMED OMAR FROM THE SMALL HOTAK SUB-CLAN (DESCENDED FROM THE MIRWAIS HOTAK WHO BRIEFLY RULED AFGHANISTAN BEFORE AHMED SHAH DURRANI). OMAR'S CLAN WAS SMALL AND UNDISTINGUISHED, OCCUPYING ONLY ONE HOUSE IN MEIWAND. OMAR HIMSELF HAD RECEIVED AN ISLAMIC EDUCATION "ON A SMALL SCALE," ONLY BARELY ACHIEVING THE LEVEL OF MAULAVI. MULLAH OMAR HAD EARNED A REPUTATION FOR BRAVERY AND SOLDIERING DURING THE JEHAD, LOSING AN EYE IN THE PROCESS, AND AFTER THE WAR HAD RETURNED TO THE MADRASA FUNDED BY HAJI BASHAR. THERE OMAR'S REPUTATION FOR HONESTY AND SINCERITY GREW -- DESPITE HIS BEING NEITHER PARTICULARLY CHARISMATIC NOR ARTICULATE.
And so, the rise of Mullah Mohammed Omar....
An ethnic Pashtun, Mullah Omar was the de facto head of state of Afghanistan -- the "emir" of Afghanistan -- from 1996 until 2001. He seldom left Kandahar, and almost never met with infidels. He is reputed to be a crackshot and to have destroyed a great deal of Soviet armor during the jihad.
Currently wanted as a terrorist and for harboring terrorists, his whereabouts are unknown, although he may be in hiding in Pashtun areas along the border. It has also been alleged that he is being protected by the ISI in Quetta, Pakistan.
7. DURING THE SUMMER OF 1994, THE SITUATION IN KANDHAR CITY HAD BECOME VERY BAD, [redacted] RELATED, REACHING A NEW LOW WHEN SEVERAL MADRASA STUDENTS WERE GANG-RAPED BY A LOCAL COMMANDER. AT ABOUT THIS TIME, MULLAH OMAR WENT TO HAJI BASHAR AND RELATED A VISION IN WHICH THE PROPHET MOHAMMED HAD APPEARED TO HIM AND TOLD HIM OF THE NEED TO BRING PEACE TO AFGHANISTAN. HAJI BASHAR BELIEVED MULLAH OMAR, AND DRAWING UPON FAMILY RESOURCES AND LOCAL BUSINESS AND POLITICAL CONNECTIONS (INCLUDING THE BAZAARIS AND JAMIAT COMMANDER MULLAH NAQIBULLAH), RAISED 8 MILLION PAKISTANI RUPEES (USD 250,000) FOR THE CAUSE AND CONTRIBUTED SIX PICK-UP TRUCKS. ARMS AND AMMUNITION CAME INITIALLY FROM STOCKS LEFT OVER FROM THE JEHAD.
This gang rape may refer to an incident in which Mullah Omar heard that two teenage girls had been taken from their village by a mujahideen commander and raped. Mullah Omar reportedly rounded up about thirty talib and, with 16 rifles among them, attacked the mujahideen base and freed the girls, capturing a quantity of arms in the process.
EARLY MILITARY ACTION
8. THE MOVEMENT SOON HAD ABOUT 200 ADHERENTS AND TOOK OVER THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE MEIWAND DISTRICT, [redacted] CLAIMED. THE SEIZURE OF THE IMPORTANT TOWN OF BOLDAK SOON FOLLOWED, MOTIVATED BY STORIES OF "VERY BAD AND UNISLAMIC BEHAVIOR" BY THE HEKMATYAR COMMANDER THERE -- AND WITH THE CAPTURE OF THE TOWN CAME ACCESS TO THE LARGE AMOUNT OF MILITARY SUPPLIES AT THE SPIN BOLDAK ARMORY. [redacted] DENIED THE REPORT THAT THE TALIBAN WERE SUPPORTED IN SEIZING THE ARMORY BY PAKISTANI INTERIOR MINISTER BABAR'S FRONTIER CORPS. HE NOTED THAT BABAR HAD NOT EVEN CONSULTED WITH THE FLEDGLING TALIBAN MOVEMENT WHEN PLANNING THE GOP'S CENTRAL ASIAN CONVOY, PREFERRING TO DEAL WITH MORE ESTABLISHED KANDAHARI COMMANDERS.
Notice the denial of Pakistani support. Might the allegation of Frontier Corps support merely have been a way for the losing side to explain away an embarassing defeat?
Notice that it was a commander loyal to Hekmatyar implicated in this. According to the account:
"We were fighting against Muslims who had gone wrong. How could we remain quiet when we could see crimes being committed against women and the poor," Omar told Pakistani reporter Rahimullah Yusufzai - one of the few to interview the recluse.
Returning to the State Department cable:
9. [redacted] OBSERVED THAT PAKISTAN HAD BEGUN TO PAY ATTENTION TO THE TALIBAN WHEN THE GROUP STOPPED THE CENTRAL ASIAN CONVOY AT BOLDAK. THE TALIBAN HAD OBJECTED TO PAKISTAN'S "HIGH-HANDEDNESS" IN NOT NOTIFYING AFGHAN AUTHORITIES IN KABUL ABOUT THE CONVOY, [redacted] NOTED. HOWEVER, AFTER HOLDING THE CONVOY FOR SEVERAL DAYS, THE TALIBAN HAD BEEN CONVINCED BY THE SENIOR PAKISTANI ESCORT, [redacted] THAT THE CONVOY WAS GOOD "FOR MUSLIMS." [redacted] SAID THE TALIBAN HAD BEEN PERSUADED BY [redacted] ARGUMENT THAT PAKISTAN WAS A MUSLIM COUNTRY AND THAT THERE WAS ALSO A BROADER ISLAMIC DUTY TO ASSIST THE MUSLIM BROTHERS IN CENTRAL ASIA. THE TALIBAN THEN AGREED TO ESCORT THE CONVOY ACROSS KANDAHAR, [redacted] NOTED. AS THE 30 PAKISTANI TRUCKS MOVED DOWN THE ROAD WITH THEIR TALIBAN ESCORT, [redacted] SAID THE RELIGIOUS STUDENTS BEGAN CUTTING THE CHAINS LAID ACROSS THE ROAD BY TOLL-HUNGRY COMMANDERS. "THERE WERE CHAINS ALMOST EVERY KILOMETER," [redacted] COMMENTED, "BUT THERE WAS NO INITIAL RESISTANCE TO OUR ACTIONS." HE SAID THAT AS WORD SPREAD OF WHAT THE TALIBAN WERE DOING, THE PEOPLE OF KANDAHAR BEGAN ACTIVELY TO SUPPORT THEM, BRINGING THE RELIGIOUS STUDENTS FOOD AND WEAPONS.
These guys are opening up the road, clearing it of all the roadblocks put up by these mujahideen-turned-highwaymen. Business will follow, and with it the chance to actually earn a living. Of course the Taliban are going to be popular.
So, did Pakistan set up Mullah Omar? Probably not? But, at some point, somebody decided to start channeling some assistance to him -- we know that at least some local people got behind him.
If someone else was helping him, was Mullah Omar even aware of it? If so, did he think it was coming from the GOP, or did he think it was merely coming from like-minded fellow Pashtuns along the border?
10. [redacted] SAID NO ONE WAS MORE SURPRISED THAN THE TALIBAN BY HOW QUICKLY THE MOVEMENT CAUGHT ON. WHEN FACED BY ARMED OPPOSITION BY SOME OF THE MORE POWERFUL COMMANDERS IN KANDAHAR, [redacted] COMMENTED THAT THE "MADRASA NETWORK" IN PAKISTAN'S NWFP AND BALUCHISTAN WAS ABLE TO PROVIDE WILLING RECRUITES IN A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME. MOST OF THE "THOUSANDS" OF AFGHANS (AND A FEW PAKISTANI PASHTUNS) WHO JOINED THE TALIBAN CAME FROM MADRASAS RUN BY THE PAKISTANIS [redacted] COMMENTED. TO ASSIST IN TRAINING THE TALIBAN AND OPERATING SOPHISTICATED WEAPONS (INCLUDING AIRCRAFT, TANKS AND HELICOPTERS) THE MOVEMENT HAD RECRUITED FORMER REGIME PILOTS AND GENERALS, WHO WERE BEING PAID TWICE THE USUAL SALARY OF 20,000 AFGHANIS A MONTH. THE TALIBAN THEMSELVES, HOWEVER, WERE VOLUNTEERS, [redacted] NOTED, WHO DEPENDED UPON SUPPORT FROM THE AFGHAN PEOPLE TO FEED THEMSELVES.
It sounds like someone saw a horse he liked, and starting betting on it.
In Part 10, we will finish reviewing this cable.