Thursday, December 2, 2021

The Taliban leader who defied death: ‘There are many myths about him’

Written by Stephanie Pappas, CNN

If you have trouble believing Taliban leader Mullah Mansour was ever in charge of the organisation you are far from alone.

“We can acknowledge that there were duplications of the leadership but it is very difficult to separate the realities from propaganda,” says Professor Tawfiq Fatemi, who is currently the senior Afghan ambassador to Pakistan.

Fatemi, who is also the president of the Afghanistan Institute for Strategic Studies , describes Mullah Mansour’s death as “one in a thousand” in the field of Afghanistan. This is despite the facts that Mansour had led the Taliban since 2013, served as its second-in-command since 2009 and was recently alleged to have overseen military operations in northern Pakistan that killed at least 50 military personnel.

Much has been made of the fact that Mullah Mansour reportedly spoke English, was fluent in Urdu and had an all-Afghan commando education in Afghanistan’s northerly regions. In a 2002 biography, “Mullah Omar: The Life and Leadership of the Leader of the Taliban,” Mansour’s father Muhammad Omar was said to have educated his son at “high altitude madrassas.” This could be used to justify his involvement in the Taliban, even though, according to Fatemi, at the time the father used to reject anyone coming from the “religious confines of Afghanistan,” only admitting Arab students in “a room of our small house.”

Because of his father’s efforts to send his own son to an Islamic madrassa, Mullah Mansour would naturally have been educated in a way that would suggest an international perspective. “This has nothing to do with why he became a leader,” says Fatemi. “Rather it has everything to do with what his father did, the efforts he made, and what was allowed to go on at the madrassa. This would have helped a considerable extent.”

In his interviews in West Point and Harvard in the 1980s, Mullah Omar was stated to be “clearly a moderate, a moderate who believed in direct talks with the US. Even though his father and brothers were not willing to believe he was, in fact, someone in this milieu, he realized that it was not possible to continue as long as the idea of direct talks was there and he had to join them.” Fatemi said this demonstrates that Mullah Omar was a man of peace.

And while Fatemi says there are many lines in the propaganda that do not reflect reality, he cannot ignore the Taliban’s reputation for suicide bombing and enslavement of women. Fatemi said: “I’m in no doubt that these have affected their image in the outside world.”

He adds that having a “realistic” view of what the Taliban will be like in five years would be beneficial to all parties.

“I am adamant we will be in a place where the Taliban have control only in the north of the country,” he said. “That will be where they will try to establish a government. But with the shrinking territory of the Afghan government and the international assistance we will have to continue our support there for Afghanistan so in the short term it is a good outcome.”

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