THE TALIBAN ROLL IN
7. [redacted] DESCRIBED THE TALIBAN OCCUPATION OF HERAT AS "EXTREMELY WELL-DISCIPLINED AND ORGANIZED." HE SAID THE FIRST ACTION OF THE TALIBAN WAS TO FAN OUT AND OCCUPY ALL THE GOVERNMENT AND MILITARY FACILITIES IN THE CITY AND TO SET UP CHECK POINTS. THEY THEN ISSUED A STATEMENT CALLING ON CITY RESIDENTS TO REMAIN CALM, ESTABLISHED A NIGHT-TIME CURFEW, AND BANNED VEHICULAR TRAFFIC ON THE HERAT-KANDAHAR ROAD FOR THREE DAYS. THE TALIBAN INSTALLED TRUSTED MEMBERS OF THEIR MOVEMENT IN THE TOP POSITIONS IN PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL ADMINISTRATION, BUT DID NOT REPLACE ANY OF THE HERATI OFFICIALS, INSTEAD CREATING "SENIOR ADVISOR" SLOTS FOR THOSE DISPLACED. THE JAILS WERE OPENED AND ALL INMATES RELEASED, AND THE SALARIES OF PUBLIC SERVANTS WERE DOUBLED. [redacted] COMMENTED THAT THE FIRST PRIORITY OF THE TALIBAN SEEMED TO BE TO DISARM THE POPULACE AND TO MOVE THE LARGE AMOUNTS OF WEAPONRY CAPTURED FROM ISMAEL KHAN (INCLUDING HEAVY WEAPONS) TO KANDAHAR. THIS, HE CLAIMED, WAS ACCOMPLISHED WITHIN THREE DAYS. [redacted] INDICATED THAT HE HAD NOT SEEN MANY AIRCRAFT AT THE HERAT AIRPORT, SUGGESTING THAT THE TALIBAN HAD EITHER MOVED THEM TO KANDAHAR OR, MORE LIKELY, THAT THE AIRPLANES HAD BEEN FLOWN TO BAGHRAM OR KABUL. HE ADDED THAT, AFTER A FEW DAYS, THE IRANIAN GOVERNMENT HAD RE-OPENED CLOSED WHEN THE TALIBAN FIRST SEIZED HERAT AND THAT THE TURKMENISTAN BORDER ALSO WAS OPEN AT TORGHUNDI.
The conduct of Khan's troops, described in Paragraph 5 in Part 15, is about what we might expect of Afghan irregulars under a warlord. Undoubtedly competent with their weapons and courageous in battle, yet lacking higher-level organization, logistics and tactical-operational planning, they acted like a warlord's army.
In sharp contrast, these religious students showed remarkable organization, including public affairs savvy. I think it's fair to say that most of the world's regular national armies aren't that good.
But, the Pakistani armed forces certainly are.
HERE TO STAY?
8. [redacted] CHARACTERIZED THE TALIBAN TROOPS IN HERAT (HE ESTIMATED THEIR NUMBER AT BETWEEN 3,000-4,000) AS EXTREMELY WELL-BEHAVED. THE TALIBAN APPEARED TO HAVE PLENTY OF MONEY, AND INSISTED ON PAYING FOR ALL THEIR PURCHASES -- WHICH WERE NOT LAVISH, MOSTLY GRAPES, WATERMELONS AND BREAD. THEY POLITELY REFUSED OFFERS OF HOSPITALITY FROM THE HERATI MERCHANTS, SAYING THEY HAD ORDERS TO TAKE ONLY WHAT THEY PAID FOR. [redacted] NOTED THAT THE TALIBAN DID NOT ACT AS "OCCUPIERS" BUT BEHAVED IN A MODEST BUT DIGNIFIED FASHION. "THEY DON'T EVEL LOOK AT YOU OR CAUSE ANY PROBLEM," HE MARVELLED. [redacted] SUGGESTED THAT PART OF THE TALIBAN DISCIPLINE DERIVED FROM DRACONIAN JUSTICE IMPOSED BY THEIR LEADERS. HE RELATED THAT HE SAW ONE TALIB CAUGHT OPENING THE DESK DRAWER OF THE BANK GOVERNOR (UNDER THE MISTAKEN IMPRESSION THAT THE OFFICE WAS THAT OF ISMAEL KHAN BECAUSE "THERE WERE SO MANY PICTURES OF ISMAEL KHAN ON THE WALL"). WHEN CHALLENGED BY A SUPERIOR, THE HAPLESS TALIB EXPLAINED THAT HE THOUGHT THERE MIGHT BE USEFUL PAPERS IN THE DRAWER. APPARENTLY HIS BOSS FOUND THIS EXCUSE UNCONVINCING, FOR HE PROCEEDED TO ADMINISTER A SEVERE BEATING -- IN THE PRESENCE OF 10-15 HERATIS -- TO THE MAN. TALIBAN TROOPS WHO FIRED OFF ROCKETS IN CELEBRATION OF THE MISTAKEN BELIEF THAT KABUL HAD BEEN CAPTURED WERE ROUNDED UP AND JAILED, [redacted] SAID. SO SENSITIVE WERE THE TALIBAN TO ISSUES OF PUBLIC RELATIONS, HE ADDED, THAT WHEN SOME HERATIS WORRIED THAT SOME OF THE HIZB-I-ISLAMI (GULBUDDIN) COMMANDERS AND FORMER COMMUNIST MILITIAMEN IN THE TALIBAN RANKS COULD RESULT IN LOOTING AND OTHER MISBEHAVIOR, THE TALIBAN LEADERSHIP IMMEDIATELY MOVED THEM OUTSIDE THE CITY.
"THE TALIBAN APPEARED TO HAVE PLENTY OF MONEY" - where did a bunch of religious students, from madrassahs along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, get "plenty of money"?
Recall from Part 7: "7. ALL VISITORS TO KANDAHAR HAVE TOLD US THEY BELIEVE THAT THE TALIBAN MUST HAVE ACCESS TO CONSIDERABLE FUNDING." Paragraph 7 of the cable reviewed in Part 7 then goes on to list evidence supporting the idea that the Taliban were well-funded.
As you read the recent history of Afghanistan, the literature indicates that Pakistan was behind the rise of the Taliban. At least initially, though, the US had given this Pakistani operation the nod. And, reports have it that the Saudis bankrolled it; furthermore, Osama bin Laden's people were involved in the Taliban's conquest of Afghanistan, stiffening Taliban forces against their battle-hardened opponents.
It all makes sense, if Sheikh bin Laden was just one Saudi front-man (from whatever faction), and if the Kingdom was bankrolling the Taliban.
9. [redacted] NOTED THAT THE STRICTNESS OF THE KANDAHARI TALIBAN DID NOT MESH WELL WITH THE RELATIVE LIBERALITY OF HERAT. GIRLS' SCHOOLS WERE CLOSED BY THE TALIBAN AND WOMEN TOLD THEY COULD NO LONGER WORK. A DELEGATION OF SENIOR HERATI ULEMA HAD PROTESTED THESE DECISIONS, WITH THE TALIBAN RESPONDING THAT THEY WOULD RE-EXAMINE THE MATTER ONCE THE SITUATION SETTLED DOWN. THE IMPOSITION OF SHARI'A LAW HAD NOT BEEN A MAJOR BONE OF CONTENTION, [redacted] NOTED, SINCE THE HERATIS "ALSO WANT CRIMINALS TO BE PUNISHED" HOWEVER, THE TALIBAN DID HAVE PROBLEMS IN HERAT WHICH WOULD GROW OVER TIME. MOST TALIBAN SPOKE PASHTU WHILE THE HERATIS SPOKE DARI (ALTHOUGH [redacted] SIAD THERE WERE QUITE A FEW TALIBAN WHO ONLY SPOKE URDU). MOHAMMED OMAR, THE SPIRITUAL LEADER OF THE TALIBAN HAD ADDRESSED THE DENIZENS OF THE CITY FOLLOWING FRIDAY PRAYERS AT HERAT'S MAIN MOSQUE, BUT HAD FAILED TO IMPRESS THE CITYFOLK. "HE HAD NO CHARISMA, WAS CLEARLY UNEDUCATED, AND SPOKE HORRIBLE PASHTU," THE AMCIT SAID. "PEOPLE ARE BEGINNING TO BELIEVE THAT THE ORGANIZATION AND MONEY OF THE TALIBAN CAN ONLY HAVE COME FROM OUTSIDE," HE OBSERVED.
Religious students from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area who "only spoke Urdu" - more evidence of Pakistani involvement? Historical accounts repeatedly indicate that Pakistani troops were deployed into Afghanistan in support of the Taliban, and that Pakistani aircraft flew sorties inside Afghanistan.
And, this would make more sense than alternative explanations, especially in light of what we learned in Part 7 and Part 8 about the Taliban's proficiency with armored vehicles, artillery and aircraft.
10. ASKED ABOUT THE NEAR-TERM CHANCES OF THE TALIBAN AND THE HERATIS GETTING ALONG, [redacted] SAID THE PEOPLE OF HERAT WERE DISGUSTED WITH ISMAEL KHAN, AND MANY OPENLY CURSED AHMED SHAH MASOOD FOR CAUSING ALL THE PROBLEMS. A FEW HERATIS STILL FAVORED MASOOD, HE ALLOWED, BUT MOST WERE WILLING TO GIVE THE TALIBAN THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT FOR NOW. YET THE REAL REASON FOR SUPPORTING THE TALIBAN WAS THE BELIEF THAT THEY MAY SUCCEED IN RESTORING PEACE TO AFGHANISTAN, THE AMCIT CONTINUED. "MOST HERATIS THINK THE U.S., THE U.N. AND THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY ARE BEHIND THE TALIBAN -- THEY THINK ZAHIR SHAH WILL RETURN ONCE THE TALIBAN TAKE KABUL." THIS IDEA, WHICH HELD OUT THE PROMISE OF PEACE, WAS VERY ATTRACTIVE, HE NOTED. "BUT IF THE HERATIS BECOME CONVINCED THAT PAKISTAN IS REALLY IN CONTROL OF THE TALIBAN, AND THAT NO LASTING PEACE WILL COME OF THE TALIBAN EFFORTS, THEN THE WAY WILL BE CLEAR FOR THE KABUL GOVERNMENT SYMPATHIZERS TO RETURN TO THE CITY."
Well, guess what, Heratis? We now know....
And, this explains why, in the aftermath of the US-led overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001, the Taliban retreated toward the Pakistani border. It wasn't just for home-madrassah-advantage; they were shortening their supply lines.
Of course, about this time, Musharraf made very vocal statements that it was time for Pakistan to cut ties with groups like the Taliban. Assuming he was sincere, it is safe to say there was still a great deal of inertia in Pakistan's support for the Taliban; and, perhaps not everybody in Pakistan's officialdom wanted to join Musharraf on this new sheet of music. Regardless, six and a half years later, the Taliban are still operating in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
11. [redacted] OBSERVATIONS STRIKE US AS ACCURATE, AS IS HIS SENSE THAT THE BATTLE FOR CONTROL OF HERAT IS MORE POLITICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL THAN MILITARY. EVENTUALLY, THE TALIBAN ARE LIKELY TO ALIENATE THE HERATIS, BUT FOR NOW THERE APEARS TO BE LITTLE SUPPORT FOR THE RETURN OF THE OLD REGIME -- A FACTOR LIKELY TO COMPLICATE ANY EFFORTS BY THE KABUL GOVERNMENT TO TRY TO RETAKE THE WESTERN PROVINCES. END COMMENT. HOLZMAN