September 25, 2009

The Death of Mullah Omar

They had watched him for months, a fraction of the years it took to locate him. A fleet of Reapers manned the skies for 24 hour surveillance while a special ops team monitored him from just across the border, prepared to pounce on the slightest irregularity. They were hoping to pinpoint other leaders as well, but they got wind that he had been tipped off and planned to vanish tonight.

The green light went on. Bombs fell. Under the demolished ruins of his safe house lie the body of Mullah Omar, Taliban leader and commander of the faithful. At least that's the plan, but would the war really end with his last breathe?

A great deal of talk is circling around who America’s enemy is in Afghanistan. Some say al-Qaeda, some say the Taliban, many say both. How to truly eliminate these groups though? Rumors of Osama bin Laden’s death have abounded for years and al-Qaeda continues to function with minimal direction. Though he's the undisputed jihadist king, Mullah Omar's death probably wouldn't unravel the Taliban’s ad hoc nature either. But since he was lumped together with al-Qaeda by President Obama himself, who said the Taliban’s “hard core” is non-reconcilable, we must assume Obama would approve a strike on both bin Laden and Omar if he could.

Killing Omar, essentially martyrdom, would merely embolden his followers, but if Obama isn’t willing to negotiate then he better be willing to kill. Omar wouldn’t give up information if he was caught and would probably commit suicide before that ever happens. He’s more useful to Obama alive since he presents one of the few exits from Afghanistan, thus he must be preserved.

Meeting with Omar would be highly controversial, but it’s commonly thought that America is trying to reverse the Taliban’s advances just to create leverage in negotiations. Omar’s one demand is the withdrawal of foreign forces; military officials hope to bring him to the point of ruin before engaging him in a position of weakness. There’s just one problem - America has shown no ability to halt the Taliban’s progress. This day of weakness is unlikely to ever arrive.

“We would like to point out that we fought against the British invaders for 80 years from 1839 to 1919 and ultimately got independence by defeating Britain,” Omar said in a message celebrating Eid al-Fitr, which ends the fasting of Ramadan. “Today we have strong determination, military training and effective weapons. Still more, we have preparedness for a long war and the regional situation is in our favor. Therefore, we will continue to wage jihad until we gain independence and force the invaders to pull out.”

Mullah Omar will never negotiate from weakness, he can only be approached in a position of power. He will never give in even if the Taliban returns to a low point. He understands guerrilla warfare is cyclical, but that the host holds the long-term advantage. Since Omar cannot be weakened without killing him, he should be contacted as soon as possible. There’s no point in waiting.

At least one person seems to agree. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who probably will survive an ethnically divided run-off, has advocated negotiating with Omar for years. Last July, less than a month before the election, Karzai reiterated, “If Mullah Omar wants to come and talk, he’s welcome - it’s a desire we have and we should try for it. Without a sincere peace process on all sides, matters will only get worse.”

Whether President Obama agrees or not, Karzai is likely his man in Afghanistan for the rest of his term. It will be difficult to escape Karzai’s position without further damaging relations, though Karzai is as unpopular with the Taliban as with America. Omar nixed negotiations the American stooge and blasted Karzai for, “rampant corruption in the surrogate Kabul administration, the embezzlement, drug trafficking, the existence of mafia networks, the tyranny and high-handedness of the warlords.”

Nevertheless, Karzai is likely to stick to his position and cannot be ignored completely given his apparent entrenchment in power.

One ambiguous theory from Washington advocates reconciliation with “moderate Taliban” and arming local tribes. President Obama claims that turning “non-ideological” fighters is essential to success, but buying off Taliban mercenaries and tribes will only last while the money does. They also might stay enemies with America the whole time, and the Taliban will keep fighting even if it loses its hired muscle. Fake reconciliation fails to comprehend the truth of the Taliban’s structure, and underestimates a potential response from Omar.

The infamous “Colonel Imam,” an ISI brigadier who claims to have trained Mullah Omar, warned in a deep interview this past June, “When are you people going to understand there are no number two Taliban... In Afghanistan the only man who can make a decision and people listen to is Mullah Omar. He’s a very reasonable man. He would listen and work for the interests of his country.”

Though Imam has reason to exaggerate, Omar seems to be level headed. Back in February he saw, and dreaded, the Swat storm that was brewing and its subsequent backlash. He made several attempts to divert the Pakistani Taliban’s attention back to Afghanistan, reportedly telling a close source, “If anybody really wants to wage Jihad, he must fight the occupation forces inside Afghanistan. Attacks on the Pakistani security forces and killing of fellow Muslims by the militants in the tribal areas and elsewhere in Pakistan is bringing a bad name to Mujahideen and harming the war against the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.”

Omar’s feelings, if true, are a clearer insight into his mind than the monstrous propaganda surrounding him. Too bad most people won’t consider looking at him from different angles. Judging by its editorials and writing staff, the New York Times has subtly but surely joined the war drums of the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. In his latest piece David Brooks claims the Taliban, “is part of a complex insurgency trying to topple the Pakistani regime.”

Pakistan is unlikely to fall even if America were to withdrawal completely and the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan. This assumption is a government throwaway line. While Omar can’t be taken at face value, he convincingly states, “Our aim is to liberate Afghanistan from the occupation forces and death and destruction inside neighboring Pakistan has never been our goal.” There is such a propensity to demonize Omar that we may look back and realize his warnings were sincere.

During his message Omar warned Americans against their leader's logic, which hasn't been stellar in Afghanistan: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan calls on the public of the West not to be deceived by the assertions of Obama, who says the war in Afghanistan, is a war of necessity. The West does not have to wage this war. The public of the West should also not be deceived by the assertions of the General Secretary of NATO and British prime minister who claim the war in Afghanistan is for the defense of the West. Such deceiving and baseless utterances must not confuse you."

If no one talks to Mullah Omar we will never know if he’s willing to make peace with America on the condition of withdrawal or possibly a position in the Afghan government. Idealism perhaps, but he’s signaled that he intends to leave Americans alone if the war ends. American officials don’t seem to perceive him as a direct threat either, only indirectly through Osama bin Laden. This is why negotiating with Mullah Omar could be inevitable - he’s the only one with any control over al-Qaeda. A chance is all it may be, but how else does America plan to uproot its true "enemy"?

Negotiation appears necessarily if America plans to stay in Afghanistan, but mandatory in the event of a full withdrawal. Leaving Afghanistan may be a good idea but not without coming to an agreement with Mullah Omar. America can’t wage war with him for eight years, on top of all the other history, then leave without saying a word. The man appears to live by honor - he might respond to it.

President Obama should pull the trigger if the drones spot Mullah Omar, but if not he must pull up a chair.

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