With the Afghan government confirming the death of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, the suspense over the whereabouts of the fugitive leader is over. It has now become clear that Omar died two years ago, in April 2013, and for the last two years, command of the dreaded organization has been in other hands. Omar’s death raises questions about the future of the Taliban, its leadership, and the destiny of the ongoing peace talks in Afghanistan.
Amrullah Saleh, the former head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS), the country’s intelligence agency, has years of experience in dealing with the Taliban. As a chief of the NDS for six years, he interacted with Taliban representatives regularly. Saleh says that Omar’s disappearance from the scene means nothing. It only reinforces the fact that the so-called supreme leader was actually a mythical figure who was being used by Pakistan to perpetuate violence in Afghanistan.
To understand the ramifications of Omar’s death, The Diplomat’s Sanjay Kumar spoke to Saleh.
The Diplomat: What is your reaction to reports confirming Mullah Omar’s death?
Saleh: It does not come out as a surprise for us because the Taliban movement was not evolving on the personality cult of an individual like Mullah Omar, it was evolving on the sheer guidance and support of the Pakistani army. It was Pakistan that informed the Afghan government about the death. So we are not surprised at all. Its not new. Since the news has come from the Pakistani government there is all the more reason to believe in the veracity of the information. He has been under the protection of the Pakistan’s army for years.
Does the death of Mullah Omar make a difference for the people of Afghanistan?
It does make a difference. It removes one layer of myth, one layer of unknown, one layer of x-factor from the Taliban. It makes it clear that the Taliban is nothing but a network of extremist militant groups who have been trained, guided, and harbored by Pakistan. Omar has always been acting as an operator, not as a strategist. He was a mythical head created by Pakistan. Taking advantage of our historical weaknesses—starting with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which gave Pakistan massive access to our lives, our villages, our social fabric—they exploited our weaknesses and created a mythical figure called “Mullah Omar.” What we have been doing is fighting an indirect Pakistani invasion since 1992 in Afghanistan.
When I heard about Omar’s death, I laughed—not because it was huge and surprising news—I laughed because it was predictable. I also laughed because Rawalpindi called the Afghan government and wanted Kabul to make the announcement so that it looked like an Afghan effort. We don’t know the circumstances of his death, whether he died of malaria or if he was killed. He was a puppet in the hands of Pakistan, staying in the guest houses provided by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.
Why did it take so long to announce his death if he died two years ago?
Well, it is a very interesting moment. Why did they announce it now? First, we cannot say whether he died two years ago or five years ago. That is an unknown fact. Perhaps the GHQ in Rawalpindi (the Pakistan army’s headquarters) has been working to create one more mythical monster which is acceptable to the west or the Afghan people. Whatever the truth, the announcement of his death is coming from Pakistan, therefore reinforcing the fact that trusting Pakistan is extremely difficult. For years they said, “Bin Laden is not with us”; for years they said, “Mullah Omar is not with us.” Now they say that he is dead. We are just laughing at how ridiculous this Pakistani game has become. It’s a tragedy suffered by us on a daily basis. But yes, layers and unknown layers are just falling apart.
What does Omar’s death mean for the peace process? The next round of talks with the Taliban is going to be held soon in Islamabad.
You see, the Islamabad talks are Pakistan-controlled and Pakistan-owned. We wanted an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled talks process. Islamabad is the wrong place to talk about Afghan peace. Pakistan has experience in partnership for conflict and war. It does not have any history of brokering peace with anybody. We are trying to experiment with the wrong people and at the wrong place.
How do you see the Taliban movement evolving from here?
The Taliban is a not a movement but a terror wave started by Rawalpindi. It will continue for as long as Islamabad wants to sustain it.