[This interview was originally published by FinalCall.com News on January 9, 2001.]
Afghanistan has always been a crossroads for the cultures of the Indian subcontinent, the Iranian Plateau, the Central Asian Steppes and China. The Silk Route passed through Afghanistan. Caravans from China, Rome and India arrived in the Northern city of Balkh. All these movements of peoples, goods and ideas made Afghanistan a cultural house of treasures.
Today, all that passes through Afghanistan are refugees fleeing a civil war that has ravaged the country for the last decade. From 1979-1989, Russia waged war on Afghanistan. And now the present war between the Islamic State of Afghanistan (Northern Alliance), under Gen. Ahmed Shah Masood, and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (The Taliban) has captured the attention of the international community.
On Dec. 19, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution which will take effect in 30 days if the Taliban do not turn over Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, accused by the American government of bombing U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing 250 people.
The argument goes back and forth about Mr. bin Laden, but according to Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar, “The humanitarian tragedy in Afghanistan threatens to deepen as a consequence of UN sanctions proposed by the United States and the Russian Federation.”
Although the Taliban control 90-95 percent of the country, they are not recognized as the legitimate government by the United Nations. The countries that recognize the Taliban are Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirate Republic.
“We are for these sanctions,” explained Haron Amin, first secretary of the anti-Taliban Permanent Mission of the Islamic State of Afghanistan. Speaking to The Final Call by phone, he added, “The people of Afghanistan are subjugated to these sanctions because of the Taliban. It is the Taliban who will not cooperate with the international community.”
What is puzzling to the Taliban, according to their spokesman, Ambassador Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, is the adversarial posture of the United States who were “at one time our friends.” The United States funded the Afghans against the former Soviet Union and helped build the camps they now call “terrorist camps.” At that time Afghans fighting the Russians were referred to as “rebels.” It was in the mid-1990s that the name Taliban appeared on the political radar screen.
One million Afghans died during the 10-year war with Russia, another five million fled the country, some 3.5 million ended up in neighboring Pakistan. There are two million still stranded in Pakistan, with more crossing the border every day, according to the Pakistani government. There has been a flurry of accusations against the Taliban, by organizations like Human Rights Watch, alleging human rights violations against Afghan women. The New York-based group charges that girls are forbidden from attending school and women are not allowed to work. There is also an allegation that the Taliban are involved in heroin trafficking.
Final Call staff writer Saeed Shabazz talked with Ambassador Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s Permanent Representative-Designate to the UN who represents the Taliban.
The Final Call (FC): Who are the Taliban?
Ambassador Abdul Hakeem Mujahid (AHM): Taliban means students. Mainly they are students who gain religious knowledge of Islam. In the history of our country, religious scholars played an important role against foreign invasion and foreign dominance. When the former Soviet Union, now the Russian Federation, invaded our country in 1979, the religious scholars and religious students, Taliban, issued a decree: “Now is the time to free your country and wage your holy war against the Russian invader.”
After the defeat of the Russians, the scholars and students went back to their religious schools and mosques and left politics to the politicians. The politicians started fighting each other. In four years more than 63,000 innocent people were killed. Absolute chaos prevailed over the country. Life, property and honor of the individual were not protected. The people began to question our religious scholars: “We are in chaos and anarchy, where are you, where do you stand?” they demanded to know. The Taliban Islamic Movement before 1964 was non-existent. We were made up of small units and we joined together as one, The Taliban. And we began to restore peace and stability to the country.
FC: What are your goals?
AHM: We have only three goals: national unity of the country, national security–there will be no segregation, discrimination from one ethnic to another ethnic, among religious groups, harmony–and finally, a strong central government. Once this is achieved, we will go back to our mosques and schools. But, before that, we will disarm all the warlords and this time leave a strong central government based on Islamic principles.
FC: What sparked the civil war after the defeat of the Russians?
AHM: We were beginning to restore peace and all of a sudden the Russian Federation, Iran and the United States started arming the opposition. Why do they want to continue war in Afghanistan? With the Iranian government we have no differences, definitely no political differences. We understand that Iran wants to run an oil pipeline to the states of Central Asia and they do not want to build it through Afghanistan, which would be the shorter distance. So they armed our opposition, hoping that these states would become impatient because of the civil war and start the project through Iran.
Iran also wants to increase its political influence in the region, but what the Russians want is different. The Russians do not want a strong central government in Afghanistan. They do not want a strong government that will bring claims for war compensation against Russian Federation for war crimes in Afghanistan. Russia destroyed 95 percent of Afghanistan’s infrastructure. They killed more than one-and-a-half million of our people. We have a right to make claims against the Russian Federation.
On the other side of the coin, the Russian Federation wants to see instability in our country, so that they may bring their troops and continue domination over the area. We believe that the reason is that they want to control our natural resources.
FC: The United States government says that they want stronger sanctions against the Taliban to force your government to hand over Osama bin Laden. What do you say to the U.S. government?
AHM: We didn’t bring this person to Afghanistan. He came to Afghanistan some 15, 16 years ago as a member of the Islamic Brotherhood. At the time we were fighting the Russians and he helped us. After the defeat of the Russians, Osama bin Laden went back to Saudi Arabia, but his citizenship there was taken away. From the Sudan, in 1994, he came to us. In 1995, at the request of the United States, we transferred him from the Eastern part of the country to a Taliban headquarters in another sector, to be controlled. With further pressure and request of the United States, we captured all means of communication from Osama bin Laden–telephones, fax (machines) and other means. After the bombing allegations against him, he came to the Islamic Taliban Movement, (and said) “I come to you to reject these kinds of allegations (of terrorism). I didn’t do this bombing.”
In spite of Osama bin Laden’s declarations, we established a court against him and declared all over the world to any government, if they have any kind of evidence to put it before our court. No country came forward to claim that Osama was a criminal. So, we ended this trial. But, the United States continued with these accusations and we again asked them to come to Afghanistan with their evidence. We have no treaty of extradition with the United States. The United States continues to say that they do not recognize our government and therefore will not do business with us. They continue to insist that they will seek other means of extradition of this man from our country.
Our problem is that on one side we have the United States government and the sanctions of the UN Security Council, and the other hand we have very strong values, tradition and what is strong ideology along these lines. This is the dilemma. We do not want to protect Osama bin Laden or use him against any country, especially the United States, who helped us against the Russians. But, the United States and Russian Federation are using this very delicate situation to divide the Afghan people, because they understand the people will turn against the Taliban, if we turn him over.
Otherwise, we will not allow Osama bin Laden to use Afghanistan against any country. In Afghanistan no one is above the law, if he is committing crimes, he will be punished. We want to solve the issue of bin Laden, but the U.S. and Russian Federation have other designs. They want to use him as an excuse for political pressure and to scare other nations from speaking up against them.
FC: Organizations have accused the Taliban of violating the human rights of women. Do you treat women in Afghanistan equally? Are there violations of their rights being practiced?
AHM: It is ridiculous to us that they are using the issue of girl education, women’s education against us. In our culture, education is not a right, it is an obligation. We want education for each individual man and family, but within Islamic principles and within Afghan culture. That means no co-education–separate education.
Women are allowed to work in all departments of the government, all the ministries of the government, but within Islamic tradition. And may I add, thousands and thousands of women are working. But can you put your attention to the hypocrisy of these countries that condemn Afghanistan?
When Russian troops were there in Afghanistan these same countries–the United States, Iran, India, United Kingdom–said they were scared of Russian domination in the region. They supported Afghanistan with billions of dollars paid through the CIA, through Islamic and non-Islamic countries. What I am getting to is this: At that time, we had five million refugees fleeing Afghanistan, many of them going to Pakistan. In the refugee camps there were 1,500 schools run by the United Nations, but they were co-educational. There were no separate schools for girls and women. So, they could not attend, and that is Afghan culture. Why didn’t the western journalists, diplomats and western countries question Afghanistan then about human rights? Why did they not say during the Russian invasion, “do not support Afghanistan, they are violating the rights of girls and women.” Why are they waiting until now to raise the question?
Going back to women working, there were seven political parties and one internal government during the invasion. All these groups were being supported by millions of dollars to be used for the business of their administrations and not one girl, not one woman worked for them. Again, I ask, why no western journalists or western diplomats raised the question? Now, we have thousands of girls in schools. In the capital of Kabul there are 36,000 girl students. We have in the nine provinces under Taliban control 125 girl schools and 400 boy schools. We want to know what does the United States have to gain by using human rights as a political issue against us in the world. Why now?
Now I will answer the allegation of drug trafficking. First, let me say that the Taliban live life by Islamic law, the Shar’ia. It is forbidden in the Qur’an to discriminate, to oppress. There is no one above the law. So it is with drugs. According to the law of the country, drug use, drug trafficking, no one can do that. We had the problem of stopping poppy cultivation, which is essentially a long tradition of the country. When the communist governments were vying for power they increased poppy cultivation and then the Russians brought sophisticated factories to the borders of Afghanistan to change the powder into illicit drugs, (exporting) these drugs to using countries. We have made our struggle well known to the regional countries and to the United States, especially the UN delegation. Provide crop substitution to the farmers, we asked. Do you believe the UN sent one of their organizations to Afghanistan with $16 million–$3.8 went to one province and $1.8 million to two other provinces. What happened to the remaining $11 million? It just disappeared. This was their support to us to prevent poppy cultivation.
What happened then was the leadership of the Islamic Taliban community decided that actually these countries do not want really to prevent poppy cultivation. At that time the leadership declared that there must be a one third reduction of poppy cultivation. The UN admitted that there was a 25 percent reduction in growth and production, but attributed the change to the drought, not the Taliban leadership. But this year the leadership decreed that poppy cultivation is prohibited all over the country, including those areas held by the opposition. If we capture the area and the farmers have violated the decree, they will be punished. No one country has come forward to support our poor farmers. The worst drought in the last 30 years is destroying Afghanistan; 10 million are suffering from food shortage.
The Taliban leadership declared the decree and established the commissions all over the country to implement the decree. Now the cultivation of the poppy in Afghanistan is over. Not one single plant of the poppy is left in Taliban controlled areas. But still the United States and Russian Federation are continuously repeating the allegation that Afghanistan is making the drugs.
Actually, what we can say is that we are being punished for restoring our national unity, for restoring our security, which is far better than the security in the streets of France, United Kingdom and America. We are being punished for declaring that we want Islamic law as our way of life in Afghanistan.
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Afghanistan, the Taliban and the United States (Media Monitors Network, 05-02-2001)
The “War on Terror” Exposed (FCN/Minister Farrakhan, 05-03-2004)