Is Mullah Omar hiding in Pakistan?


LAHORE: It has been eight years since the supreme commander of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, vanished into the trackless terrain outside Kandahar, amidst repeated claims by the American authorities that one of the Most Wanted FBI fugitives, who has a $10 million bounty on his head, continues to guide his forces while hiding somewhere in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.

While the Pakistani authorities keep refuting the American accusations about the presence of Mullah Omar in Baluchistan, the western media has now alleged that parts of the ISI are supporting Taliban and protecting Mullah Omar and other militant leaders in Quetta, amidst reports that US officials are discussing sending commandos to capture or kill them besides launching air strikes to target them. The renewed American pressure on Pakistan has come amidst US intelligence reports that Mullah Omar is reasserting direct control over the Taliban militia by ordering massive suicide attacks and shuffling field commanders in Afghanistan, while hiding in Pakistan from where he runs his shura, the strategic command and the control. Yet, the Pakistani authorities strongly refute US intelligence claims about presence of Mullah Omar in Quetta, terming them as baseless and far from reality.

As a matter of fact, it was almost five years back on July 8, 2004 that international media had first reported Mullah Omar’s presence in Quetta, stating that Afghan interrogators were told by Mullah Sakhi Dad Mujahid, a close aide of the Taliban ameer, that he has been leading the Taliban forces from his Baluchistan hide out. On February 25, 2006, Kabul handed over intelligence information to Islamabad, indicating that Mullah Omar and key Taliban associates are hiding in Pakistan. The information was shared during a visit by Karzai to Islamabad after a wave of suicide attacks that fueled suspicions of the Karzai administration that militants are operating out of Pakistan.

In March 2006, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told The Associated Press that Afghanistan had shared with Islamabad credible intelligence about the whereabouts of Mullah Omar. As Pakistan refuted the information, saying most of it was outdated, including the possible whereabouts of Omar, Abdullah said Afghanistan would not have handed over information it did not believe in. Abdullah said most of the Taliban leaders that are actively instigating terror in Afghanistan are operating from Pakistan. “We have provided evidence of Omar being outside of Afghanistan, in Quetta in Baluchistan to our Pakistani friends.” This was not for “one day, not one hour but time and again in Quetta”, he said.

Almost six months later, on September 23, 2006 Karzai said that Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden were both in Pakistan, charging that Islamabad’s support for militants had made Afghanistan unstable. Addressing the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, Karzai said the Taliban leader was for sure in Pakistan, adding that “Pakistani President General Musharraf knows it and I know it . . . He is truly there”. On the whereabouts of bin Laden, Karzai said: “If I told you he was in Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf, my friend, would be mad at me. But if I said he was in Afghanistan that would not be true.” In a veiled reference to Musharraf and his alleged support of militants, Karzai said some in the region are definitely using extremism as an instrument of policy to maintain political power.

On September 9, 2006, the CNN ran an exclusive report about the whereabouts of Mullah Omar, stating that the one-eyed Taliban leader is living in Pakistan, though not in the same area where al Qaeda leader Osama is thought to be. Quoting US intelligence source, the report said: “The elusive Taliban leader is believed to be hiding in Quetta or its environs, a city of one million that is the capital of Baluchistan province in southwestern Pakistan. The intelligence source says that Mullah Omar continues to supply high level guidance to his movement of religious warriors, although he is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the movement, a role largely played by his military commanders.

On January 3, 2007, Mullah Omar said in his first ever interview with a Pakistani newspaper since the puritanical militia were driven from power in 2001, that he would never hold negotiations with the US-backed Karzai regime and warned that the war will be escalated to such an extent that foreign troops are compelled to leave Afghanistan and institutions established by them are dismantled. “The foreign troops should at once leave Afghanistan and then the institutions they created should be dismantled. Unless this happens, war will heat up further. It will not recede”, the Taliban supreme leader said in response to written questions sent to him by a Pakistani journalist through his media spokesperson.

On January 17, 2007, the Afghan intelligence authority released a video in which a captured Taliban spokesman confessed that Omar was hiding in Quetta under the ISI protection. The Afghan intelligence agents had arrested Abul Haq Haqi, known to the media as Doctor Mohammad Hanif, in the eastern province of Nangarhar. The 26-year-old confirmed he was picked up after he had entered Afghanistan from Pakistan and that he had come to the country on a mission after seeing his ameer. He was quoted as having told his interrogators that the Taliban ameer was running a shadow government from Quetta, complete with military, religious and cultural councils.

However, a recent news report by The Sunday Times has claimed that groaning under allegations about the presence of the Taliban leaders in Quetta, they are being moved to the volatile city of Karachi, where it would be impossible for the Americans to target them.

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