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In the second part of this report Pepe Escobar examines how the key to the Taliban riddle may lie on how the US decides to deal with a notorious jihadi with a long CV. But there’s also the matter of how to deal with the mysterious Taliban leader Mullah Omar who, from his hideout in Quetta, Pakistan, now seems to be more than ever in charge of the upcoming Taliban spring offensive in Afghanistan. The Obama administration’s bet on counterinsurgency may backfire badly. Or maybe the reason is because Washington plans to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely.

Story Transcript

The key to the Taliban riddle

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST, TRNN: The key to the riddle lies with this man, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, former prime minister, the man who chose to destroy Kabul in the civil war in the mid-1990s before the Taliban took power in 1996. In fact, he managed to kill more Afghans than Soviets. Hekmatyar is the Michael Corleone of jihad. Recently [inaudible] Afghan government offered him a deal: exile in Saudi Arabia first, then return to Afghanistan with full immunity. Problem is Hekmatyar does not want asylum; he wants to be part of the government in Kabul. Former Taliban foreign minister Mullah Muttawakil knows from experience. He says this thing is not going to work.


Courtesy: Al Jazeera English

MULLAH MUTTAWAKIL, FORMER TALIBAN FOREIGN MINISTER (VOICEOVER TRANSLATION): It will not benefit anyone if he brings one part of the Taliban into government and leaves the other part behind. It will not finish the war.


ESCOBAR: This means that Obama’s special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, will have first to find out where he is and then talk to this guy here, the Shadow, Mullah Omar.


Courtesy: Al Jazeera English

AHMADSHAH AHMADZAI, FORMER AFGHAN PRIME MINISTER: —if Mullah Omar agrees or those who are around are authorized by Mullah Omar. This is the real Taliban faction, and they can bring peace.


ESCOBAR: What would Mullah Omar tell Holbrooke? Well, exactly what Mullah Omar’s close friend, Mullah Mutassim, a former Taliban finance minister, told Al Somood Magazine last week: “We want the US and NATO out of Afghanistan.” Mullah Omar would also say, “We want sharia law and absolutely no Western interference.” Now, what does Michael Corleone—oops—Hekmatyar want? Well, he’s not Taliban. He’s not al-Qaeda. He was a darling of the US, Saudi Arabia, and the Pakistani ISI during the jihad in ’98. He’s not a fundamentalist. It’s more like Muslim Brotherhood. The CIA tried to kill him with—what else?—a Hellfire missile. He escaped. Then the ISI helped him to regroup. Karzai offered him a government post. Pakistan, he lives with his brother from custody. China invited his link to the ISI and Zardari, the Jamaat-e-Islami Party, to Beijing for talks. So everybody loves him—Karzai, Zardari, the ISI, the House of Saud, China, and sooner or later the Obama administration as well. So he may get an offer he can’t refuse. But there is a problem: he also wants the US and NATO out, and he’s clever enough to try to fight a united Taliban flush with opium money and ultra-energized against the Petraeus counterinsurgency tactics. By the way, he was a pioneer of refining heroin inside Afghanistan instead of just taxing opium. So what happens next? Well, the usual. The united Pakistani Taliban are helping to prepare the massive spring offensive directed by this guy here, Mullah Omar, against the surging US, plus NATO, in Afghanistan. So Zardari was leaving the Pak-Taliban in peace. So, well, no wonder Washington is absolutely fed up. The solution? Well, the Pakistani military back in power, Musharraf style. What else is new? Pakistan’s chief of army staff, General Ashfaq Kayani, he was in Washington less than two weeks ago, maybe to get his marching orders. The Bush game was invasion equals liberation; the Obama game is counterinsurgency. Washington was throwing more money, more weapons, and a few PhDs into this game. But this is not about conquering hearts and minds in Afghanistan. The Taliban, they have enough money, enough weapons, enough appeal in Pashtuni areas to resist anything the West throws at them short of a nuclear device. You don’t fight a mafia with counterinsurgency; you fight it with a good, coordinated police sting. Follow the money. Cut the Taliban’s source of funds out of smuggling opium. Meanwhile, US corporate media’s not doing their job again. Misinformation is leading no less than two-thirds of Americans to believe that the surge is a good deal. Obama swears, and I quote, “We have no interest or aspiration to be in Afghanistan over the long term.” Well, perhaps he forgot to ask the Pentagon. Their acronym-infested bible is here, and it spells counterinsurgency forever. Or maybe Obama should ask Lt. Gen. (retired) David Barno, the former top military in Afghanistan. This guy over here, he is going to have a lot of fun. See you in 2025.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge both published by Nimble Books in 2007.