With talks between the United States and the Taliban about to begin, Taliban chief Mohammed Omar has vowed that his fighters will take Kabul within one week of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The statement, made during a recent meeting in Southwest Pakistan, should dispel any illusions that the Taliban will negotiate in good faith, or honor a democratic process, in the wake of the withdrawal of U.S. forces next year.
Mohammed Omar, often referred to as Mullah Omar, is considered to be the spiritual leader of the Taliban, although it is not clear how much control he still exercises over their forces. From 1996 until the Taliban was overthrown by the U.S. invasion in 2001, Omar was the Afghan Head of State, bearing the title “Head of the Supreme Council.” He narrowly escaped the country as American troops drove the Taliban from power. His recent remarks were revealed by a source close to a member of the Taliban’s current ruling council. This same source, as reported on FoxNews.com, confirmed that Mullah Omar was opposed to talks with the United States. The Mullah – believed to be living in Pakistan – is wanted by the United States, which has placed a bounty of $10 million on his head. The source told Fox that Omar “…is in good health and living a pious life being guarded by his trusted lieutenants,”
If Omar is, indeed, still leading the Taliban, then any talks with the Islamist groups would be no more than a mere publicity stunt and any agreements made would, inevitably, turn out to be hollow gestures.
The Taliban recently opened a new office, amid great fanfare, in the Gulf state of Qatar. The office has been portrayed as a virtual embassy of the Taliban government-in-waiting; something that angered Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who dashed any idea of participating in the upcoming talks. The US State Department is currently scrambling to provide Karzai with assurances, in an attempt to salvage the upcoming talks. For their part, the Taliban do not consider the Karzai government relevant and expect to be negotiating with the United States bilaterally. The two sides appear to be far apart on some key issues, however. The Taliban are demanding the release of five of their members, currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison. For its part, the United States is calling on the group to renounce al-Qaeda and respect the fragile democratic process in Afghanistan. With Mohammed Omar vowing to see the fall of the Afghan capital, Kabul, within a week of next year’s planned US withdrawal, it seems unlikely that the Taliban will comply with either of these demands.
The one-eyed Taliban leader is an Afghan native who fought with the Mujahideen against the invading Soviet forces. He is reported to have lost his eye to shrapnel, during a battle with Soviet troops, although several different dates, regarding the incident, have been given, depending on who recounts the story.
It appears likely that the talks may, at least, lead to the handing over of the five Taliban at Guantanamo and, possibly, the release of the only American soldier being held prisoner by the Taliban; Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was kidnapped in Afghanistan, almost three years ago.
With Karzai unlikely to participate in any talks and Taliban head Mohammed Omar predicting the fall of Kabul within one week of the U.S. withdrawal, it remains to be seen how much real progress can be made towards an ending of hostilities.
Written by Graham J Noble