In this part, the author of the book focuses on the overall political atmosphere following the arrival of Osama Bin Laden in Jalalabad in 1996 and the failure of Mullah Omer in silencing Bin Laden, who is obsessed with the international media. The author believes that arrival of Bin Laden in Afghanistan was the biggest challenge facing the Taliban movement at the time.
The author, who had close ties with both Bin Laden and Mullah Omer, says that Bin Laden had involved the Taliban in confrontations and thrown it into hostile political atmospheres that it never expected to get involved in. The Taliban, at least during this particular period, was not interested in such an experience, as it still had not established itself firmly in the country.
Bin Laden did not consider the interests of the Taliban movement, whose leadership decided to protect him against the strongest superpower in the world. He was not even aware of the scope of the battle in which he opted to fight, or was forced into fighting. Therefore, he lacked the correct perception and was not qualified to lead.
Consequently, the Taliban was defeated and Afghanistan was lost, which historically holds the strongest fortresses of Islam. It was defeated due to a series of losses, which culminated in the catastrophe caused by Bin Laden in Afghanistan. This catastrophe is often compared to that of the disaster of Arabs and Muslims in the 1948 war against the Jews, which Arabs call Nakba, and 1967 war, from which they have invented the term Naksa.
The greatest challenge facing Taliban:
Bin Laden”s arrival, or rather his return, to Afghanistan for the second time in May 1996, was the greatest challenge that the Taliban had to face. The tragedy that Bin Laden caused Islam is no less than those caused by other leaders. As the proverb goes, "Those who work without knowledge will damage more than they can fix and those who walk quickly on the wrong path will only distance themselves from their goal."
More American than Clinton:
Attempts to handover Osama bin Laden following the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, dominated the events of that period. One of the Arab ambassadors in Islamabad, who was described as "more American than the American president" requested on behalf of the USA that the new Taliban ruler surrender Bin Laden. This request was made immediately after the Taliban took control of Jalalabad and just before the new ruler settled into his new office.
Both the request and the ambassador were referred to Qandahar, as the issue of Bin Laden”s handover was the responsibility of Mullah Omer (the commander of the faithful). The ambassador emphasized to Mullah Omer that he wanted Bin Laden to be handed over to the US informing him that Bin Laden was no longer a Saudi citizen and that he was not charged with any particular crime against the US.
Mullah Omer made his point very clear saying, "I will not hand over a Muslim to an infidel." This quote determined the fate of Afghan-American relations and consequent to this, war became inevitable.
Some Arab radicals warned the Taliban leadership that they had principally declared war on the US, the timing and circumstances of which, would be decided by Washington. They further added that the "crusader West" decided over two hundred years ago to exclude Islam from state politics.
Mulla Omer failed to silence Bin Laden:
At that time, Bin Laden was obsessed with the media, the international media in particular. Mullah Omer could not restrain Bin Laden”s words.
Many Afghan ministers visited Bin Laden in his winter residence in a village called Arab Khail that he established on land that he borrowed from a close friend in the Najm Al-Jihad area. Afghan ministers, most of whom were young, used to travel from Kabul to Jalalabad, sometimes just to visit and socialize with Bin Laden and other times to discuss technical matters related to their ministries especially in relation to farming, electricity and construction. They were aware of his background and experience in these fields, but they might have been hoping that he would heavily invest in building the Afghan Islamic emirate, as he did in Sudan.
Although Bin Laden would advise these visitors, they only came because of orders from Mullah Omer, whose underlying message for Bin Laden was that he was one of them but should not speak to the media. However, Bin Laden was prepared to sacrifice Afghanistan and Mullah Omer, in exchange for making his statements.
Bin Laden”s obsession with the international media:
Bin Laden began to appear in the international media frequently. The Independent”s renowned reporter Robert Fisk visited Bin Laden and interviewed him in Jalalabad which was his first interview following his arrival from Khartoum back to Afghanistan. American broadcasting channels joined in and so did the London-based Arabic press. Al-Quds daily editor-in-chief, Abdul Bari Atwan, interviewed Bin Laden in Tora Bora and was the first to know of Al-Qaeda’s role in fighting the American troops in Somalia.
Bin Laden”s statements caused wide controversy. Appeals made by
Mullah Omer and other Taliban officials such as the prime minister and the foreign minister, failed to stop Bin Laden”s controversial statements to the international media or to control his obsession with the media. Their appeals were unsuccessful at a time when the Taliban had not yet established itself.
Animosity from the Taliban "hawks" towards Bin Laden:
A group within the Taliban leadership resented Bin Laden”s behavior. On one hand, the Taliban movement had successfully begun to extend its control to more areas but on the other hand, the emerging Arab presence started to attract the attention of international Islamic movements following Bin Laden”s audacious statements to the international media. Mullah Hasan Omer, a member of the Taliban Shura (Consultative) council, believed that Bin Laden became the person who was to decide foreign policy of the Taliban, and that his statements to the international media caused American, Pakistani and Arab reactions. They also believed that Europe and the United Nations, influenced by the US, moved against the Taliban. This faction within the Taliban believed that the best action to take was to expel Bin Laden because of his repeated rejection of orders from Mullah Omer the commander of the faithful who had asked him not to give interviews to the international media.
Mullah Mohamed Hasan was the most outspoken amongst the Taliban”s anti-Bin Laden "hawks". In private, he said, "There is no need for those Arabs as they are our rivals". He talked about a sectarian rivalry between the Afghan and the ”Afghan-Arabs”, because the latter had supported Sayyaf and Hikmatyar during the Jihad. He also added that the ”Afghan-Arabs” fought with Hikmatyar against the Taliban. They are, he said, "Muslim Brothers who are enemies of the Taliban".
Mullah Mohamed Hasan questioned why they should tolerate the crises of the Arabs. Other anti-Bin Laden "hawks" also questioned whether he had been sent by the US to be used as a justification to destroy the Taliban. This conspiracy theory was present among a number of the Taliban leaders who were against Bin Laden’s presence in Afghanistan. Opposition to Bin Laden from the Arabs was for different reasons. Some of them believed that Bin Laden”s statement declaring war against the US was issued before the Taliban controlled Kabul. They also said that declaring Jihad is an important and a crucial issue that should be discussed with the ruler Mullah Omer. Without discussions, meetings or coordination an inevitable confrontation will eventually take place between Bin Laden and the Arabs, on one side, and Afghanistan on the other side. They also argued that the Arabs were only guests, that they were the weaker side and that they might be forced to leave Afghanistan if Bin Laden fails to keep his controversial comments out of the media.
Afghanistan…the last refuge:
During the past two years, a meeting was held before the Arabs were
expelled from Afghanistan, in which they were told that they and Bin Laden had to respect that Afghanistan is the only place in the world that accepts their residency without being threatened internally or externally. There was no argument regarding the responsibility of Mullah Omer to rule the country, Bin Laden”s disobeying of Mullah Omer”s authority, or the attempt of forming a parallel state inside Afghanistan.
Apparently, Bin Laden disagreed on these matters, but he proved to be the only person in Afghanistan who believed to have the right and ability to do as he pleased.