London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Sayyid Rahmatullah Hashemi, once a roving ambassador for the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan and undersecretary for the Taliban’s foreign minister Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutwakil, has shed his beard and turban and is now studying at Yale University.
The 27-year-old father of two enrolled in summer classes at the prestigious American institution and is currently studying political science. After the fall of the Taliban regime, Hashemi moved to Quetta, in Pakistan, where he disappeared from view until traveling to the United States in 2005. This is his second visit, as he had toured the country as a representative of the Taliban prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Hashemi hopes that Yale, the third oldest university, which counts the current US President George W. Bush, former presidents Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford as alumni, will accept him as a full-time degree student September 2006.
In our only meeting in Afghanistan, a few months before the Taliban were ousted from power; I was amazed by his excellent command of the English language and his intelligence. He was opposed to Osama bin Laden and would not recognize his fatwas, considering al Qaeda leader’s “an American creation” to whose legend the Taliban had not contributed. “We inherited bin Laden. We had to and still do deal with him, according to the Islamic traditions that the Taliban follow by protecting its guests.”
At the time, rumors were circulating in Kabul that a liberal current in the foreign ministry was opposed to al Qaeda’s presence on Afghan territories and objected to the welcome and protection afforded to bin Laden.
Hashemi appeared confident the Taliban regime would successfully be recognized by the international community, in less than two weeks, if it were to renounce its extremist directives and re-opened cinema halls, cafes and video stores, as well as hand over bin Laden, suspected of bombing the US embassies in Nairobi and Darussalam in August 1998, to the United States. However, intricate problems between Washington and Kabul would remain.
The former Taliban spokesman made a brief appearance on our screens in the Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. He was seen apologizing to a female activist for the Taliban’s oppression of women as it forbade them from going to school and outlawed television and music.
Hashemi traveled across Western Europe and the US before the fall of the Taliban as a roving ambassador to the Islamic emirate and in March 2000, he delivered a number of speeches in Los Angeles on the situation in Afghanistan. He was severely criticized by women’s groups in the US because the Taliban forbids education and severely restricts the freedom of Afghani women.
In an interview with the New York Times, Hashemi indicated that he believes in western-style democracy and even championed the right of women to vote in parliamentary elections. He indicated that many in the west had mistaken views about the Taliban and described it as extremist. But, he added some officials in the Taliban, such as the former foreign minister Wakil Mutwakil, had moderate views and demanded that the movement give up its weapons.
Yale University ran a background check on Hashemi to ensure he was not a spy. He indicated that he had joined Yale to study political science and was considering writing a book about Afghanistan and returning to his country. He is distinguished by his knowledge of four languages: Pashto, Urdu, Persian and English and has assimilated well into campus life.
Hashemi had revealed to Asharq al Awsat how Mullah Omar had placed his foreign minister under heavy security in one of the villas in Kandahar. He further forbade him from meeting journalists who came to see him following the air raids on Afghanistan on 7 October 2001. This followed a strong disagreement between the two men, which left Mullah Omar depressed and almost sedentary; he would seldom leave his residence and go sit for hours in his garden contemplating the plants.