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Do the Taliban represent the Pashtuns? Pt.2

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington, and joining us again from London is Muhammad Junaid. He’s a researcher doing his PhD and studies in the Pashtun identity. Thanks for joining us again, Muhammad.

MUHAMMAD JUNAID: Thank you very much.

JAY: Let’s pick up from where we left off in segment one. So the Taliban, if I understand it correctly, was a group of mullahs in the Kandahar region during the civil war of the early 1980s when there was such chaos, and mujahedin warlords were all fighting each other, and at least 500,000 Afghans were killed during this period. I should add that for those of you that want, you can watch the interview that we did recently with Zbigniew Brzezinski, that a lot of this got started because of American arming of the mujahedin before the Russians invaded, and apparently to induce a Russian invasion. At any rate, after the Russian invasion was a terrible civil war, and the Taliban emerged as kind of a force of law and order, very much backed by the Pakistan ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence]. So pick us up from there. How is the Taliban seen in terms of the Pashtun identity? Start from that.

JUNAID: How would you look at them? I mean, let’s say, you know, there are Pashtuns who are living in Afghanistan who have lived in Afghanistan even in the communist times. For them the Taliban version is too extreme at this point. But, again, you know, nobody should interpret it that they will fight them or, you know, they will prefer them—or they will prefer to fight them over Americans and NATO. In Pashtun identity, it is very important to think in terms of being Muslim. That is much more important than thinking in terms of mosque or a shrine. However, the Taliban did came from Pakistan in that way, because they were educated in seminaries. But, then, many Pashtuns come from Pakistan. How much was the involvement of ISI and Pakistani army? Well, it is very natural. If you look Zia-ul-Haq’s time from 1980s, the Pashtuns were given this medicine of fundamental or extremist version of Islam. And those who were administering the Pakistani army. And the whole world was helping it so that, you know, they can beat communism. That was the real agenda. So it is natural that there will be, you know, people in ISI and in army who will be training them and who will also become quite overzealous Muslims. So that link was there, and Taliban, well, rose because of, you know, that infighting. At that time, [Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar or other people, they were not extremist Muslims; they were mujahedin and they were warlords. And, well, people, you know, welcomed them, because they gave some kind of order to the country.

JAY: So let’s jump ahead till now. The Taliban come to power. Al-Qaeda develops its presence there. Talk a bit about how al-Qaeda was seen when it first came to Afghanistan, but particularly during the time of the Afghan rule.

JUNAID: This is the third variable now. Let’s say, you know, there are Pashtuns; there is Taliban, which is a Pashtun Taliban, actually; and there’s al-Qaeda. Now, what is al-Qaeda actually? Al-Qaeda, you know, as far as we know, is a extreme kind of, you know, stance which is taken by, which is adopted by Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula, we will say. Now, those Muslims were more in brotherhood to Taliban than to normal Pashtuns. So Taliban would like to join hands with them. Now, look at the country, you know, which was destroyed by communists or—and after that it was destroyed by infighting, and then, you know, Taliban come into power. And then look at it that, you know, a person called Osama bin Laden comes in with good money. He is a very strict Muslim, and his Islam is very near to the Taliban—in fact, it is the same. They have worked together. And he has quite some money, and he is going to develop the place. And that’s enough for, you know, Taliban—it will give all the benefits to them. For Pashtuns, it was more the question of security and peace. So as long as Taliban were keeping that, that was okay for them. So you can say that, you know, Pashtuns were more neutral about al-Qaeda, or maybe, you know, friendly to them. Taliban were more like brothers of al-Qaeda.

JAY: So how does 9/11 change the relationship?

JUNAID: The relationship is changed, because, you know, in Pashtun culture security is much more important, it is one of the important aspects. And they don’t like, you know, people—in fact, they will not allow their guest, which is, you know, one of the important part of Pashtunwali—again, in Pashto it is called "melmastia", or hospitality. So anybody, you know, going there as a guest—.

JAY: Let me remind people, from the first segment, Pashtunwali is essentially the codification of Pashtun customs and laws and behavior.

JUNAID: Yes, code of honor of Pashtunwali is a way of life. So that melmastia, or hospitality, is really shattered if somebody, as a guest, is acting against another person without the agreement of the host. And that actually meant that the normal Pashtun will not be happy with that. If Osama bin Laden has done 9/11 and it was without the consent of Pashtuns—Afghanistan was not at war with America—so that goes negatively with that. So they don’t like Osama bin Laden for that reason, in the beginning, let’s say, in 2003 or 2000.

JAY: But does that start to change?

JUNAID: Now, what happened, you know, after that, the story of the last eight years, is, you know, again, America did, you know, the mistake, I think, which was done, you know, by the Russians. In fact, Russians were in much more, you know, powerful position because they had a strong party of communists in Afghanistan. America had nothing like that. They depended a lot, much, on warlords. And the warlords, well, their history is something, you know. Because of the warlordism, you know, the Pashtuns actually accepted Taliban, they welcomed them. Again, you know, those warlords, you know, came into the foray, and it looked like, you know, for the time being, that America will come here. Many Afghans knew, many Pashtuns knew how America looks, and they were dreaming that, you know, if Afghanistan can become 10 percent of that America, they will be very happy with that. But that didn’t happen, only because of this warlordism. And it still exists. That warlordism actually destroyed, you know, the American image in Afghanistan, because America was perceived as very positively. It helped Pashtuns take back their land and it gave refugee status to many of Pashtuns, and they were able to bring their families in Peshawar, and in America, you know, the UK, even America, they were very good, you know, countries for Pashtuns.

JAY: In the recent suicide bombing, where the CIA agents—I think it’s seven CIA agents—were killed in this camp on the Afghan-Pakistan border, one of the things the newspapers were commenting on based on the videotape of the guy that did the suicide bombing, the Jordanian doctor, that he was sitting next to one of the Pashtun leaders, Taliban leaders. But this also seemed very connected to al-Qaeda and this kind of merger between al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. They seemed to think that was more evidence of it than perhaps they thought there had been previously. So talk a little bit about where things are now between the Taliban al-Qaeda and the Pashtun tribes and elders.

JUNAID: Yes. We need to, you know, make another very important distinction, which is between TTP, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, and the Mullah Omar Taliban. Now, Mullah Omar Taliban has at several occasions denounced any violence against the Pakistani army, and they simply say they have called Pakistan as "Majbooristan". "Majboor" means in the local language "being forced". So they think, you know, Pakistan is a forced land now, forced by America or whatever, to economic, you know, downfall, and they’re, you know, helping the others. And they clearly said, "We are not against Pakistan; we will never attack it; we know it is our second home." This is what Mullah Omar’s Taliban said. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, on the other hand, is very different phenomenon. They simply say that "Because you are helping NATO and America with the supplies and everything and you are taking money from them,"—this is what they are telling the Pakistani army—"that is why we are going to attack you." And they, you know, really are at war against the Pakistani army. So there is this very big distinction, and it has been reported at several points that Mullah Omar actually wrote to Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. Baitullah Mehsud, who was, you know, killed in a drone attack, wrote to him several times not to fight Pakistani army and come over and fight, you know, NATO and America.

JAY: Let’s stop there for now, and in the next segment of the interview let’s talk about that attack that killed the CIA officers and what does it tell us about the alignment of forces. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Muhammad Junaid.