Below are excerpts from, “Life with the Taliban”, the autobiography of Mullah Abdus Salam Zaeef who was amongst the Mullahs of Taliban who played an integral part in the victory over the Russian ‘superpower’. He was also amongst the very first Mullahs to set in motion the second rise of the Taliban after the country had subsequently descended into a horrific state of chaos and anarchy.
Worth noting from these accounts is the fact that manpower, technology, media, and other paraphernalia, are never the cause of victory for the true believers. Rather, the only pre-requisite for victory is Purity, Taqwa, Wara’, and Ittiba-e-Sunnah i.e. Purity from deviant influences, abstention from Haraam and Mushtabah (doubtful) matters, and rigid adherence to every minute Sunnah of Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) are the only means to attract the Nusrat (Divine Help) of Allah (azza wa jal) without which victory is never possible for the believers.
Thus, Allah (azza wa jal) granted victory over the Russians to the Mullahs while their lives were yet ascetic, pure from deviant influences, and regarded as ‘extreme’ on the Sunnah by other Mujahideen groups. Similarly, when the Taliban came to rise again during the subsequent anarchy that prevailed after the Russian collapse, they initially consisted of the very same Mullahs who were at the forefront of the fight against the Russians, and whose Deen and intentions were yet pure. No deviants, fussaaq (flagrant sinners), and fujjaar (criminals) were involved. Within a matter of months, Allah (azza wa jal) granted them dominion over the whole country.
However, despite being granted such a wonderful and unique opportunity to establish a purely Islamic state based on the model of the Khulafa-e-Rashideen, it is a cause of eternal lament that the Taliban’s movement became polluted with influences from deviant sects, fussaaq and fujjaar, and their attention was diverted away from the True Cause of their success, Allah (azza wa jal). As a result, Azaab (Divine Chastisement) descended upon them in its usual form, viz, Kuffaar invasion.
It is also worth noting the manner in which other ‘Mujahideen’ groups, at the very first opportunity, betrayed the Taliban despite recognising the Mullahs as amongst the most vital components upon which the victory against the Russians was based. Whilst treachery, taqiyah, deception and betrayal are amongst the salient features of the ‘Mujahideen’ of deviant groups, honour, integrity and justice are the salient features of the True Mujahideen who in this age are represented solely by the Mullahs of Afghanistan.
A future article will expound more on this important distinction between the True Mujahideen and the so-called ‘Mujahideen’ of Baatil sects, which will also reveal some first-hand accounts of Salafis who were amongst the founders of the ‘al-Qaeda’ ideology, and who later lamented and betrayed their guilt over the manner in which the Taliban were secretly regarded in utter contempt by the Salafis, and the manner in which the Taliban were deceived and misused for their own nefarious objectives, ultimately resulting in the destruction of those who had so graciously and naively granted them asylum.
EXCERPTS FROM “LIFE WITH THE TALIBAN”
(Headings added by compiler for readability)
AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION MENTIONED IN THE INTRODUCTION
As you will witness in the pages of Mullah Zaeef’s autobiography that follow, the Taliban groups were somewhat set apart from the other mujahedeen, in part because there were certain rules and habits they observed, which some other fighters—in the rollicking freedom of the times—considered too strenuous, or perhaps even ascetic. Mujahedeen affiliated with the comparatively liberal Mahaz-e Milli party of Pir Gailani, or with Rabbani’s Jamiat-e Islami, say they viewed the Taliban units as naysayers and too strict by far…
THE TALIBAN WERE AT THE FOREFRONT AGAINST THE RUSSIANS
There is a common misconception that “the Taliban” only came into being in 1994. In fact, the word Taliban is the plural form of Talib, meaning ‘student’. As such, as long as there have been madrassas, there have been religious students or Taliban. The Taliban mostly eschewed politics, but the government tried to draw them in by pressuring them to be involved in the land reform, or by threatening them in other ways….
Like most young men at that time, I was eager to join in. We all wanted to fight the Russians. I often talked about it with my friends when we saw the mujahedeen leaving. I wanted to fulfil my obligation to Allah and free my homeland from the godless Soviet soldiers. But I had no money to get there, and my relatives and instructors at the madrassa would not allow me to join in the struggle. They believed in the idea of jihad, but weren’t willing to risk the life of one of their sons. My cousin advised me to focus on my studies for now, and that maybe we could join the jihad later. “You will see”, he would tell me. “Studying is good for you. It gives you a future”. I started to save all the money I could get my hands on. All in all I saved perhaps one hundred Pakistani rupees,18 which took me about three months. I was fifteen years old when I left for Afghanistan. I didn’t tell any of my relatives or friends. I had started my jihad….
THE TALIBAN WERE DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHER MUJAHIDEEN GROUPS
AND KNOWN FOR THEIR PIETY AND JUSTICE
The Taliban were different. A group of religious scholars and students with different backgrounds, they transcended the normal coalitions and factions. They were fighting out of their deep religious belief in jihad and their faith in God. Allah was their only reason for being there, unlike many other mujahedeen who fought for money or land…
Many people talked about the Taliban, even back then. They were respected by other mujahedeen. Some of them even consulted the Taliban courts to settle their disputes or came to seek advice. Jihad was not just about fighting; in our view, there had to be a strong educational perspective as well as a provision for justice. People came to the Taliban to help them in their disputes. Mawlawi Nazar Mohammad was initially the senior judge, but after he was martyred Mawlawi Sayyed Mohammad Pasanai Saheb5 took over. A Taliban prison in Pashmol was established along with other holding cells throughout the districts under our control. Most of the mujahedeen fronts were very homogeneous, with most people coming from the same background, same tribe, same family, or from the same area.
We lived off the land and thanked those who donated food and money. People wanted to help just as we wanted to fight. If a commander left somebody out of an operation, that fighter would feel angry and disappointed. Just as normal people are eager to get married, we were desperate for martyrdom. At times you could hear mujahedeen cry out in the midst of battle, but not out of fear. Even though many of our friends were martyred, one after another, we weren’t scared. We would have leapt at the first opportunity to run into open fire during battle, if only our commander hadn’t reigned us in..
Fighting alongside the Taliban meant more than just being a mujahed. The Taliban followed a strict routine in which everyone who fought alongside us had to participate, without exception. We woke before sunrise to perform the fajr or morning prayer in the mosque, and afterwards sat together before returning to the camp. We would recite Surat Yasin Sharif every morning in case we were martyred that day. Some would then leave to strengthen some front or other, or to carry out a raid, while others would tend to prisoners, the wounded or spend some time studying. Even though a large number of common people took part in the jihad along the Taliban’s front, all had to follow the group’s basic principles.
Apart from dire emergencies during operations or enemy assaults, the mujahedeen were engaged in study.Senior Taliban members would teach the younger seekers, and the senior Mawlawi would instruct other older Taliban members. In this way, a common and illiterate mujahed could become a Talib within two or three years. I carried out both duties on the front; I would learn from my instructor and I would teach others the basics of reading and writing. We all studied, and so I was able to continue my religious education. People who did not want to study went to fight under other commanders. Not all the fronts worked this in this manner, but we were Taliban and this was our way. We wanted to stay clean, to avoid sinning, and to regulate our behaviour…
OTHER MUJAHIDEEN GROUPS WERE POLLUTED WITH DEVIANTS,
FUSSAAQ (FLAGRANT SINNERS) AND FUJJAAR (CRIMINALS)
The Taliban encountered Hajji Latif and his men later, at a meeting of commanders in Nelgham. Hajji Latif had arrived at the meeting escorted by rough-looking, hashish-smoking boys. They were young, wore western-style clothes and carried small Kalakov machine guns slung over their shoulders. The difference between them and the Taliban was clear and plain to all. They stood outside our door with their hair all slicked-back, and soon the Taliban were gathered around them, staring in their direction instead of showing them hospitality.
Hajji Mullah Ali Mohammad Akhund voiced his concern about the young men Hajji Latif had gathered around him. They were all hashish smokers and “cinema boys”, he said. Hajji Latif was embarrassed and promised that he would order his men to shave their heads and take a haircut. He would, he said, teach them the suras of Yasin, Tabarak al-Azi and Amm. “I will make them become like the Taliban”, he pledged whole-heartedly. As soon as he left the meeting he started teaching his men, but we later heard that a woman had visited him. “What are you doing, Hajji Baba?” she asked. Hajji Latif told her that he wanted to turn his men into Taliban. “But Hajji Saheb!” she said. “They will not become Taliban this way. Leave them be. They are young and have desires. They only have a two-day life. Let them pass it in happiness”. This woman apparently made Hajji Latif change his decision. God knows better!
THE BEAUTIFUL LIFE OF TRUE JIHADIS
It is hard to believe, maybe, but we were happy. From time to time we danced the Atan [a war ‘dance’], such was our elation. At other times we suffered grieviously, but it was the true path: if one died, it was meant to be. What a happy life we led! At the end of an operation we would return to our positions and hideouts; we would sit in our rooms, relieved and comforted that we had succeeded in damaging the enemy’s military machinery—until the next operation, that is…
We fought for three days and three nights. I did not sleep or eat. It was the month of Ramazan and I was fasting, but the attacks did not cease and went on all throughout the night. The Ulemaa’ advised me to break my fast, but I was afraid that I would die any minute in the storm of bombs and rockets being launched at us, and I did not want to be martyred while not fasting. In only three days, I lost fifty of the fifty-eight men under my command…
The war was a matter of life and death; often chance was all that separated the two. I was caught nine times in Russian ambushes while fighting and trekking back and forth to Pakistan. Eight times God saved me from certain death, just once succumbing to injury. In Khushab, a bomb blew me through the air away from a spot that was riddled with bullets a split-second later. Two of my friends died in a mortar explosion in Nelgham that I also barely avoided; the Russians had booby-trapped a stash of mortars they left behind in a fort. Although I stood only a few metres away when they exploded I was left without a scratch on my body. When I first joined the jihad I was fifteen years old. I did not know how to fire a Kalashnikov or how to lead men. I knew nothing of war. But the Russian front lines were a tough proving ground and—at different times—I eventually commanded several mujahedeen groups in Abasabad, Mahalajat, Arghandab, Khushab and Sanzari…
We reorganized into a new group led by the late Mullah Mazullah Akhund. Our commanders were Khan Abdul Hakim and Karam Khan, whom we called the “twin brothers”. We had Karam Khan as our commander, and Khan Abdul Hakim commanded the front of the late Hafizullah Akhundzada. They were skilful men and brilliant tacticians who fought with great courage. Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhund, who later became the leader of the Taliban movement, was the commander of our fronts in the north. Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhund, Mullah Mazullah, Mullah Feda Mohammad and Mullah Obaidullah Akhund were the main leaders of that battle in Sangisar…
Mullah Najibullah was hit by a bomb, and the blast knocked him out. His hand was injured and when he came to he could no longer hear. Shrapnel, pieces of stone and wood flew through the air. Mullah Mohammad Omar was only twenty metres away from me taking cover behind a wall. He looked around the corner and a shard of metal shrapnel hit him in the face and took out his eye. Soon every room was filled with injured mujahedeen, but none of them lost their composure. The bodies of the martyred mujahedeen lay on the ground, a jarring reminder of the battle outside. Mullah Mohammad Omar busied himself bandaging his eye.
On that same night we held a marvellous party. The late Mullah Marjan sang and we accompanied his sweet voice. I can still remember the ghazal that Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhund sang: ‘My illness is untreatable, oh, my flower-like friend My life is difficult without you, my flower-like friend.’ Even though he was injured, Mullah Najibullah amused us a lot. He still could not hear a word but we kept on trying to talk to him. A bomb had also injured Khan Abdul Hakim, the commander of the other front.
May God be praised! What a brotherhood we had among the (taliban) mujahedeen! We weren’t concerned with the world or with our lives; our intentions were pure and every one of us was ready to die as a martyr. When I look back on the love and respect that we had for each other, it sometimes seems like a dream…
VICTORY AGAINST RUSSIANS TAINTED BY BETRAYAL OF FAKE ‘MUJAHIDEEN’
Under the shadow of this new government, the Russians announced their intention to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. When I first learned about this I was very happy. The jihad seemed to be over, and we had won. I had never thought that I would live to see the day when the Soviet Union left Afghanistan. I was sure I would be martyred by one of their bullets: I even wished for it. Every time I went on an operation I believed I would not return. With the defeat came new hope, though, and I found myself praying to God that he would let me live to see Afghanistan as a free and independent Islamic country with an Islamic government. But the loose alliance between the different mujahedeen groups crumbled before our eyes as everyone started to pursue their own goals. What came next obliterated what we had fought for, and defamed the name and honour of the mujahedeen and the jihad itself….
The Taliban leadership held a meeting at the grain silo in Kandahar, the same building that still sits on the western outskirts of the city, pitted by rocket and mortar blasts. The most prominent commanders had all come together to discuss how to divide the city up among the Taliban and the other mujahedeen factions now that the Russians had abandoned it. At the very moment they were holding their meeting, though, other mujahedeen groups were speeding towards Kandahar. The commanders who now sided with Najib’s government had decided that the Taliban should be excluded from the new administration. They had divided the city, and while the Taliban sat in the silo discussing what should happen next, commanders took positions throughout the city.
I had been on my way to Mirwais Mina from the silo on my motorcycle when I saw scores of armed men taking the checkpoints and entering the city. I hurried back as fast as I could and burst into the meeting. “While you are busy here, the city is being occupied by the alliance!” I told the commanders. No one had noticed the silent assault. When the commanders finally left the silo and moved towards the city it was too late. The Taliban had carried out many military operations against the Russians and had been one of the most important pillars of the jihad, sacrificing their lives and sustaining thousands of casualties, but we had been betrayed. Only the old Russian family barracks outside the airport came under our control; the late Hajji Mullah Yar Mohammad Akhund was responsible for that. Even so, we no longer wished to fight, and most of us returned home to continue our studies. We contented ourselves with the fact that we had driven the Russians from Afghanistan…
The Taliban didn’t involve themselves in these disputes, and in any case most had returned home by now. Mullah Mohammad Omar turned our old mujahedeen base in Sangisar into a madrassa…
BACK TO NORMAL MENIAL LIFE
I had never worked in my life, had no money to start a business and didn’t know what to do. My own family was living in Pakistan; they could help me to find work or start a business, but I did not want to leave Afghanistan. I had heard there was a foreign organization operating along the Salawat-Panjwayi road where people had found work, so the next morning I went to register with them. I was given a shovel to dig water channels along the road and started work straight away. Everyone there was given 250 Afghanis and seven kilos of wheat per day. It was the first time I had worked and I wanted to make a living for my family, so I enthusiastically took to the task.
The other workers stopped digging as soon as they were left alone or when no one was watching them. They sat down and chatted amongst themselves, and even told me to stop digging. I shouldn’t bother doing any work, they said, if no one is watching. And even when they’re watching I could apparently get away with looking busy and not really doing anything. Work hours were from eight in the morning until one in the afternoon.
It was almost noon on my first day when Hajji Bahauddin, a tribal elder from my village who had been a student and friend of my father, drove by. He was on his way from Salawat to Deh Merasay when he caught sight of me among the other men. He stopped his car and walked over to me. He put his hand on my shoulder and asked, “Hajji Mullah Saheb, what are you busy with?” I greeted him and he glanced at my hands. I had only been digging for half an hour but already blisters had broken out on my hands and had even started to burst. My hands were smeared with blood; my hands were not used to digging. Tears welled in his eyes as he looked at me: “Such hands should not work”, he said and took the shovel from my hands and drove me home.
When we arrived at my house I had nothing to offer him so eventually he went on his way. We had neither food nor tea, and my six-month old son was ill. I was deep in thought, trying to find a way out of this dire situation, when someone knocked on the door calling my name. Noor Ali, the son of Hajji Bahauddin, was standing there holding a sack of flour. He asked if he could bring it into the house. After he put the sack in the yard he took some money out of his pocket and handed it to me. “My father said you should take this money and solve your problems for now”, he said. I counted out sixty thousand Afghanis, at the time an unthinkably generous amount of money. I will never forget the goodness of Hajji Saheb.
CRIMES AND ATROCITIES OF OTHER ‘MUJAHIDEEN’ – THE DEFAMERS OF JIHAD
The next day I took my son to see a doctor in Kandahar city. Ustaz Abdul Haleem and Mullah Naqib were still fighting when we passed through the area near the prison. A group of shaggy, dirty-looking men stopped us and told everyone to get off the bus. They ordered us to start digging trenches. I told one of them that I had my six-month old son with me who was ill. “We are on the way to the doctor”, I explained, “and his mother is not with me”. But the man just shouted at me, telling me to get to work and not talk about things I wasn’t asked about. If I spoke one word more, he said, he would riddle my body with thirty bullets. He cursed me, and asked why I didn’t want to help the mujahedeen. Shame on this kind of mujahedeen! They brought a bad name and embarrassment to the whole jihad!…
We were in between Mullah Naqib and Ustaz Abdul Haleem’s areas of control. Many travellers had been martyred or had disappeared while they were held up and forced to dig trenches. On many occasions innocent passersby would be shot by one side or another, and they would be thrown into the ground disrespectfully, without consideration for the proper religious burial rites and without informing the family to alert them of the death…
We avoided all the main roads and used smugglers’ routes and back roads to avoid the criminal gangs that were holding up travellers, robbing them and raping their wives all over southern Afghanistan. There was no security and there was no law. Gangs of former mujahedeen, thieves and thugs were bleeding the people. No one was holding them accountable and travel had become dangerous and expensive…
On that occasion, the people of the city gathered after Friday prayers and staged a demonstration against the commanders. Thousands of people poured onto the streets, marching through the city from Eid Gah Darwaza to Charsu, the old bazaar dating back hundreds of years to the time of Ahmad Shah Baba. But the demonstration came to a stop at Kabul Darwaza square, where Baru, a former mujahed who had gathered a few men around him, had taken position with a tank. Without warning he fired into the demonstrators. Dozens were martyred by Baru, and the demonstration ended. For the next few days every house seemed to be mourning the loss of a family member or a friend. But even attending a funeral was almost impossible, because each lane and street had been fortified with trenches; the city had become a battlefield…
THE SECOND RISE OF THE TALIBAN
Many of the people who went to the city would come back with tales of anarchy and chaos, and often I heard artillery fire in the distance. The stories made me feel uneasy; I remembered the jihad and the sacrifices we had made. It seemed that it had been for nothing, but I still remained patient and gave the same advice to my congregation. Two old friends came to visit me at the mosque. Abdul Qudus and Neda Mohammad were both mujahedeen and we had fought sideby-side during the jihad. They stayed for dinner and we talked till late at night. Abdul Qudus, who was later martyred in northern Kabul, said that life had become unbearable. Stealing and looting were unavoidable. Homosexuality and adultery were everywhere. People acted without any thought of morality.
“What shall we do, Mullah Saheb?” he asked. “We have lost our way”. This was not the first time old friends and people from the village had come to me. For months I had heard them telling me how helpless they felt with no one to turn to, no court or police who would help them. I myself felt helpless as I listened to them, and it affected me deeply. I spent a lot of my time wondering whether it was my religious duty to act, if this was still part of my jihad to fight against Afghans who were squeezing the life out of their own people for the sake of money and power…
We started to meet other mujahedeen and Taliban from the time of the Soviet jihad. After a few days we decided to hold a meeting in Pashmol. Thirty-three people came to the mosque to attend the meeting which was chaired by Mullah Abdul Rauf Akhund. The discussions lasted for several hours before we reached a plan of action: we would seek the support of other mujahedeen and Taliban and together with them we would clear the streets of the rogue commanders and checkpoints.
We decided to send out three groups. The first group would talk to those religious mujahedeen who were playing no part in the looting and robberies, and who were pious and virtu ous men. A second group was to meet with the Taliban and other virtuous people to gain their support, or at least to gain their assurance that they would not stand against us. The third group would go and meet with the Ulema’, would consult with them and gain their support. In particular we sought the approval of Mawlawi Sayyed Mohammad Pasanai Saheb, the respected and well-known judge whom we hoped would issue a fatwa to give our movement legal backing. After all the groups had carried out their tasks another meeting would be convened in Pashmol in which each would present their findings.
A month went by before this second meeting took place. The report of the first group was encouraging and it seemed that many mujahedeen would lend their support to our plan. The second group, however, came back with only negative responses. The Taliban and their commanders had not only said that they would not cooperate, but some had even opposed them. The reply given by Mawlawi Pasanai Saheb was positive, but he did not agree with all parts of our plan. We decided that we would stick with the broad outline regardless of his criticisms, though.
The meeting continued and the issue of leadership was raised. People were discussing what kind of person should be selected to lead our group. Most of the people in the room suggested that I should be selected as temporary leader, but I did not think that I was the right person. I suggested that the older commanders, even those who weren’t themselves looting, did not support us, and that they would be the first to stand against us. We should, I argued, find a leader who is not a prominent figure, who doesn’t have any standing as a commander and thus does not have any political relations from the past with any of the known commanders. According to these criteria I thought I wasn’t the right man for the leadership post. We decided to postpone the selection of a leader and would spend some time searching for such a figure.
Groups were sent out to meet with known commanders like Mawlawi Abdul Samad,Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhund, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund and others in Helmand such as Abdul Ghaffar Akhundzada,Chief Mullah Abdul Wahed and Mawlawi Atta Mohammad. I was part of the group deputed to meet with Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhund and Mullah Obaidullah Akhund because I had suggested them for their abilities and leadership qualities.
A NEW LEADER
The late Mullah Sattar, Mullah Neda Mohammad and I went to Sangisar to the house of Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhund. Mullah Mohammad Omar’s wife had just given birth to a son, and he was holding the traditional recitation of the Qur’an when we arrived. Others had been invited to his house for his ceremony; the Imams of the mosque and all his friends had gathered there. We joined them and also recited a section from the Qur’an. The final prayer was uttered and food was prepared. After dinner most guests left. We went to a separate room with Mullah Saheb and told him about our previous meetings in Pashmol and about the plan. We told him that he had been proposed as a leader who could implement our plan.
He took a few moments to think after we had spoken, and then said nothing more for some time. This was one of Mullah Mohammad Omar’s common habits, and he never changed this. He would listen to everybody with focus and respect for as long as they needed to talk, and would never seek to cut them off. After he had listened, he then would answer with ordered, coherent thoughts. Finally he said that he agreed with our plan and that something needed to be done. “But, I cannot accept the leadership position”, he said. Turning his face to Mullah Abdul Sattar and myself, he asked, “Why did you not accept it?” We explained the reasons why we were unable to lead the group, but still he seemed to have his doubts. He argued that it would be a dangerous mission, and asked us what guarantees he could have that everyone wouldn’t just abandon him if things became tough. We assured him that all those involved were true Taliban and mujahedeen.
After this short discussion he told us that other people had also come to him with similar plans. Hajji Bashar, the district administrator of Keshkinakhud, shared our opinions and was ready to cooperate. “We will undertake every effort we can”, Mullah Mohammad Omar told us. He thought that we were obliged to solve the problems of the people to the very best of our ability, and that everything else must be left to God. “In the end everything that happens depends on God”, he said. “I will consult some of the Ulema’ and we will persuade Mawlawi Saheb Pasanai. Then let’s see what we can do”…
NO WRITTEN ARTICLES, LOGOS, STUPID FORMALITIES,…ONLY THE SHARIAH
The founding meeting of what became known as ‘the Taliban’ was held in the late autumn of 1994. Some forty to fifty people had gathered at the white mosque in Sangisar. Mawlawi Saheb Abdul Samad, Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhund, Mullah Abdul Sattar Akhund and Mullah Sher Mohammad Malang23 all spoke, outlining their responsibilities. The respected Mawlawi Abdul Samad was designated the Taliban’s Amir, and Mullah Mohammad Omar was its commander. Mullah Mohammad Omar took an oath from everyone present. Each man swore on the Qur’an to stand by him, and to fight against corruption and the criminals. No written articles of association, no logo and no name for the movement was agreed on or established during the meeting. The shari’a would be our guiding law and would be implemented by us. We would prosecute vice and foster virtue, and would stop those who were bleeding the land…
THE NUSRAT (HELP) OF ALLAH AGAIN IN MOTION
The first few days of the movement were times of great need. We had a few weapons, but no cars and no money. Mullah Abdul Sattar and I each had a motorbike, and I had about ten thousand Afghanis at home that I donated to the group’s funds. We pledged our motorcycles to the movement. My bike broke down with an engine problem on the first day, though, which left Mullah Sattar’s Russian motorbike as the Taliban’s only means of transportation. It had no exhaust pipe and could be heard coming from miles away, roaring down the dirt tracks and back roads. We called it “the Tank of Islam”. After Mullah Masoom visited the villages, scores of people came to our checkpoint to see the Taliban for themselves. There was hope in their hearts for the first time in years, and many were quick to embrace what we stood for. The Taliban had given beauty to the region just as a flower can brighten even the most barren desert.
Soon dozens of volunteers came to join us, and only a few days after the movement started it had over four hundred members. Invitations were sent out to people who came from all over Helmand and even from Pakistan to join. Many businessmen and traders began to donate money to support the movement. One man came to the checkpoint lugging a sack of money behind him. I remember when we counted the notes that the total came to over ninety million Afghanis. This was an unimaginable sum of money at the time; I had never even dreamed of an amount that large. We were stunned by the man’s generosity and told him that we would give him a receipt that recognized his donation and charity, but he said, “I have donated this money for the sake of God alone. I don’t need anyone to know about it. There is no need for a receipt, or for my name to be known”.
Many others came to donate whatever they could afford. We travelled up and down the road between Maiwand and Panjwayi from checkpoint to checkpoint, informing all the commanders and bandits that they should stop their extortion and harassment. Most of them ignored us. Many even stepped up the cruel punishments that they inflicted. They would send messages filled with curses and abuse with every car that passed their checkpoints going towards the Taliban. They would call us beggars, sons of mura, or wild turbaned men. Often worse names and messages would reach us…
At the time the Taliban did not have any plans to extend their activities beyond those two districts. We were mainly thinking about our friends and neighbours, the villages and towns in which we lived. The situation had become so bad that something needed to be done, but no one seemed to be able or willing to try to stand up to the rogue commanders and bandits…
Hajji Bashar, the administrator of Keshkinakhud, handed his area over to the Taliban even though no one had demanded it from him. He had already donated a Toyota Datsun and a Hino truck. Abdul Wasi, a well known and brave mujahed who had fought under the late Mullah Abdul Hai and who had become a prominent merchant, had also donated a Land Cruiser. Hajji Bashar was a good mujahed and a commander of a front of the Jamiat party during the war against the Russians. Even though he was younger than most of us, he was courageous and generous. He had played a key role during the jihad and took part in most military operations with us. He was happy to hand over his district.
I remember how he stood in the middle of the main bazaar in Keshkinakhud and asked to be the first to be judged by the shari’a that was to be implemented by the Taliban. “I am proud to be the first to stand in front of the shari’a out of my own free will”, he said. He asked the Taliban to shave his head first as a lesson for the other people of his district. Mullah Naqib, the leader of the Alikozai tribe who was known for his battles against the Russians in Arghandab district, also gave his support to the Taliban. Mullah Naqib was one of the most powerful leaders in Kandahar at the time—maybe the most powerful—and his Alikozai tribe had been undefeated in battle.
Many of the other commanders tried to get Mullah Naqib to oppose the Taliban and prevent us from entering the city. But instead of fighting against us, he unexpectedly handed over Hindu Kotai inside the city border. Hindu Kotai was his main base within the city limits and most of his men were stationed there. The news of the Taliban’s initial success and Mullah Naqib’s support spread, and many more came to join. The late Mullah Mohammad Rabbani Akhund11 soon followed Mullah Naqib and joined the Taliban; this brought the south-eastern district of Arghestan under our control. Soon we were known throughout Afghanistan…
Kandahar City was handed over to the Taliban by Mullah Naqib willingly. Hajji Mullah Obaidullah was appointed commander of the Kandahar Corps; Mullah Mohammad Hassan27 was appointed governor; Akhtar Mohammad Mansur was appointed commander of the air forces; the martyred Mullah Abdul Salam29 was appointed the provincial Army chief, and the responsibility for government departments was divided between various people. The city was at peace. The old habits of keeping boys, adultery, looting, illegal checkpoints and the government of the gun were over. An ordinary life was given back to the people, and they were satisfied for the first time in years.
NO CONCERN FOR PR, MEDIA AND CRITICS
Occasionally journalists would turn up, but we did not care much for them. They often came with many demands, and on one occasion a journalist wanted to talk to me. Since we were not allowed to give interviews to the media, I told him that he should talk to our leadership and not to me, but he just took that as an invitation to ask me questions about the Taliban leadership for his interview. I told him that Mullah Burjan and Mullah Mohammad Rabbani were our leaders but that they weren’t at the base. The journalists would then try to find someone who would give them an interview but the Taliban kept to themselves…
THE IMPLEMENTATION OF HUDOOD PUNISHMENTS OF DIVINE JUSTICE
With the fall of Kandahar, the Taliban began to re-establish their judicial system throughout the south. Several courts were opened and the judges started hearing ongoing disputes. I was deputed by Mullah Mohammad Omar to assist Mawlawi Pasanai Saheb in his court. He had been appointed high judge of the Appeals Court and had his offices in the Arg behind the Welayat. Mawlawi Pasanai Saheb was known for his impartial judgments and rulings. Whoever was brought before him—even if they were relatives or friends—would receive the same treatment and the same judgement. He followed God’s orders as specified in the Islamic shari’a law. I remember many of the cases we dealt with, but two in particular stick out.
There is a place near Pashmol called Shukur Hill where most sentences against murder cases were carried out. When a convict was led up the mountain to receive his punishment we would secure the area. Twan, also known as Qurban, had slaughtered a man with a knife in cold blood in my childhood village of Charshakha. He was brought to Shukur Hill. Many mujahedeen had gathered there, and the father of the victim and his family were waiting for him.
When Twan was brought onto the empty square the people started to beg the father of the victim for forgiveness, as was the custom in these cases. The Ulema’ explained the virtue of forgiveness, other people offered money, and some commanders pledged weapons. One of the commanders offered fifty Kalashnikovs and some money on behalf of the condemned man, but the father of the victim could not be convinced to forgive Twan. The on-duty personnel gave him a knife and Twan was brought to him with his hands and legs tied. The father of the victim walked over to him slowly, rolling up his sleeves. He first knelt on the ground then uttered Allahu Akbar loudly and put the knife on Twan’s neck. Taking back the knife and raising it in the air, he started to speak:
“Look! God has given me this power. No one can release you from me but God. You are the one who brutally killed my son without any lawful reason. Based on the shari’a, God has given me the right to take revenge for my dear son or to forgive you for sake of God. Forgiveness pleases God more than revenge. I forgive you, so that God will be pleased with me. Now it is he who shall take revenge when the final day comes”.
He threw the knife away and at once people were crying out the takbir, others were firing guns and the people were rushing forward to kiss the hands and feet of the father. Someone untied the hands of Twan but he could not move or talk for a full five minutes. People congratulated him on this unexpected chance for a new life and told him that he should devote himself to Islam and the worship of God. “God has shown mercy. Regret your deeds and never even think of actions like these again”, he was told. I was convinced that the man would never commit another crime, but he soon killed again. I also heard that he himself was killed in a robbery a short while later.
Another case that Mawlawi Pasanai ruled on was that of the murder of an entire family and their guest. A man called Mohammad Nabi from Girdi Jangal camp had gone to the house of the baaja or husband of the sister of his former wife. He was warmly welcomed by his wife’s sister and her husband. Another guest arrived and dinner was served when night fell and it became dark outside. Mohammad Nabi and the other guest decided to stay overnight and settled in the guestroom to sleep, while his baaja and her family retired to their rooms.
When everyone was asleep, Mohammad Nabi, a trained butcher by profession, took a cleaver and beheaded the other guest in his room. Then he proceeded through the house killing the entire family room by room; there were eleven victims in total: a woman, two men and eight children including a six-month old baby. Before he left the house, he chopped all the bodies into pieces and brought them down to the basement. He was arrested in Panjpayi Camp in Baluchistan by the mujahedeen and brought to Kandahar, where he confessed to the crime but never explained why he did it.
During the court sessions and while in prison Mohammad Nabi would often say that he should be killed, but never told us why he had butchered the family of his baaja. More than once he said he wanted to be killed. In his dreams he could see the small children, their limbs in his hands, blood everywhere. Every night they would come to him and ask him why he had so brutally killed them. “What did we do?” they would ask him. Mohammad Nabi could not sleep; “my heart is heavy, please have mercy and kill me soon”, he often told the judge.
He was condemned to death and the sentence was due to be carried out at the riverside between Kushkak and Nelgham. Relatives and friends of the family had come with their guests. They had selected two men—one from each family—to avenge the deaths of their relatives. The two men were both brothers of a victim. When Mohammad Nabi was brought before them at the riverside no one asked for forgiveness. Neither the mullahs nor the people said a word, even though Mawlawi Pasanai Saheb had instructed the Ulema’ to ask for mercy and to pray for him. Not even the friends or family of Mohammad Nabi had come to collect his body.
I went to Judge Mawlawi Saheb. I asked for permission to have Mohammad Nabi perform two rak’at and that he should be instructed to utter the kalima. With the permission of Mawlawi Saheb I went to Mohammad Nabi. I told him that the relatives had arrived and that they would avenge what he had done. Now would be the time for him to perform a last prayer towards the Ka’aba and proclaim the creed of faith. But Mohammad Nabi looked straight at me and said, “Just kill me now. I can still see those limbless children in my hands. I can’t pray or proclaim the creed of faith”. I was surprised and astonished by his words. I begged him to reconsider. I tried to change his mind for a long time but all he would say is, “Just kill me”. Finally Mawlawi Saheb told me to leave him alone. I was pleading with him until the very last moment when he was shot by the heirs of his victims.
He died without praying or uttering the kalima. The victims’ families became ecstatic after he was shot; people screamed and threw their turbans in the air. For me, Mohammad Nabi was proof that a cruel man will die without even being able to pray or proclaim his faith. If a man is not guided by God himself, no experience or amount of suffering will show him the right path…
THE TALIBAN – DEDICATED SERVANTS TO THE PEOPLE
People were eager to work for their homeland. They were peaceful and valued education. They respected values and principles and had a knack for business. They respected the elders, and the Taliban tried to serve them as best they could, maintaining security and upholding the law….
I had wanted to stop working in government departments for some time and looked forward to following in my father’s footsteps as Imam of a mosque, where I could spend my time learning and teaching the holy Qur’an and Islam. For me, to this very day, it’s the life I want to lead and that which fulfils me the most. It is work that has no connection with the world’s affairs. It is a calling of intellectual dignity away from the dangers and temptations of power. All my life, even as a boy, I was always happiest when studying and learning things. To work in government positions means a life surrounded by corruption and injustice, and therein is found the misery of mankind…
Like many of my colleagues in the Taliban, it was the first time I had visited Kabul. The Taliban had also started to implement shari’a law: women were no longer working in government departments and the men throughout the city had started to grow beards. Life in the city was returning to normal. People were coming to the market again and security improved on a daily basis even though there was still a curfew in place. The fighting in the city had taken its toll, though, and many seemed to suffer psychologically. There was little left of the previous administration: most of the offices were looted and the government departments were in chaos. Parts of the city had been completely destroyed and many of the ministries lay in ruins.
THE REST IS HISTORY…..