Osama is in charge

On the Afghani economy

The town was in absolute shock. Everyone was talking about leaving Afghanistan as soon as possible. To reach Peshawar, you need at least two dollars. Then you need another five dollars to bribe the Pakistan official at the border. Anyone who has this amount is leaving.

The average wage of an Afghani government clerk at present is around three dollars per month. A daily worker in Jilalabad would get between 10 and 20 cents a day. So there is tremendous poverty all over Afghanistan.

People are sick and tired of the Taliban regime. They cannot say it openly but are very sure now that the regime is on its way out. Most of the shops and the trading companies were closed in Jalalabad. No one wants to do any business there. It is more like a deserted city.

On the military power of the Taliban - and of Osama bin Laden

There are around 20,000 military men at the disposal of the Taliban. They have lost their best friend Pakistan, so their military assistance is in trouble. In contrast, there are over 25,000 military men with Osama. They come from China, Algeria, Nigeria and many other Arab countries apart from Pakistan.

When the Taliban say they will not hand over Osama to the Americans, it has nothing to do with their courage or their service to Islam. They are unable to hand him over as Osama has more Islamic militants than they do.

On the popularity of the Taliban

They have lost support in absolute terms. The people I spoke to in Jilalabad are openly against the Taliban. I think it is only the militant students who support them: no-one else in Afghanistan does. They are the most unpopular regime in Afghanistan’s history. If America comes here the Taliban will lose power not so much because of the attack but more because they have no social basis. The Taliban cannot fight America for long. They cannot hide for long. They are doomed to lose power. The Taliban are the most vicious and brutal government of all time and we opposed them from the beginning. America and Pakistan supported them from the beginning. Today they say that the Taliban Government is no good. We said it from Day One.

On the real ruler of Afghanistan

There are three tendencies within the Taliban hierarchy. One is the most fundamentalist which is totally opposed to handing Osama over to America. Another group is in favor of handing him over. The third group does a balancing act between these two and it is this third group which prevailed recently when it was decided that Osama should leave voluntarily.

The problem is that all three groups put together are smaller than Osama’s army. Osama is the real ruler of Afghanistan, not the Taliban.

On the return of the King

The 89-year-old ex-king, Zahir Shah, seems to have the support of all the parties in Afghanistan apart from the Taliban. The black, red and green flags of Zahir Shah’s party are seen everywhere in Peshawar. Our party will support him for a transitional period. The American plan is to hand him power after the fall of the Taliban and then he can call elections in a year’s time. It is clear that he will not be able to solve the problems of the people. But we have no other choice but to support him for a transitional period.

mag cover This article is from the November 2001 issue of New Internationalist. You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Get a free trial now »

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