Wakil Muttawakil

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Mullah Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, also called Mullah Wakil Ahmad, and with a surname also spelled Mutawakil, was, before the Afghanistan War (2001-), personal aide and spokesman for Mullah Muhammad Omar, and later foreign minister for the Taliban.[1] He had, from the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa to just before the 9-11 attack, negotiated with the West regarding Osama bin Laden, although he may not had full support in the Taliban leadership. Now under house arrest, he has been mentioned as a possible moderate for negotiations on an Afghan peace.

He surrendered to local authorities four months after the invasion, and was transferred to American custody, where he stayed for nearly two years. [2] He was the first senior Taliban official to be released, in a form of house arrest. [3] At the time of his release, he was open to the idea of negotiations. It was reported that he might have fallen out of Mullah Omar's favor by suggesting bin Laden be turned over.

Muttawakil emphasized that while the Taliban brought restrictions, they also brought security. He has been mentioned as a possible moderate in long-term peace negotiations for Afghanistan.[4] Released but under surveillance in a 2007 interview, he spoke of the Afghan people needing security, which was the reason the Taliban displaced warlords that had fought the Soviets in the Afghanistan War (1978-1992).

He explained that the Taliban wanted, when they took over, friendly relations, but also wanted their social system. "We are against co-education, but we are happy with separate education...For example, in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, people are studying separately, which is according to Islamic law. If women wear the hijab, they can go to school."

Muttawakil had mixed feelings about Osama bin Laden and other Arab volunteers. "We did not hate them, we had a sort of love in our hearts for them. But it was not worth the price for us -- it was not worth putting our lives in danger, which is what happened...The only solution was for the Arabs to live here quietly, safely, as immigrants. They should have lived here as immigrants, not as fighters."

1998-1999 negotiations

In 1998, he was in discussions with the U.S. about the possible handover of Osama bin Laden, for the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa, following an Afghan trial.[5] He said he "personally discussed U.S. concerns with 'Amir-Al-Mumineen' (Commander of the Faithful) Mullah Omar," and the Taliban still consider Osama bin Laden "innocent," adding, "It is unbelievable that this small man did this to you." The Taliban remained "deeply upset" over the U.S. bombings of training camps in Khost. "The U.S. said bin Ladin had killed innocent people, but had not the U.S. killed innocent Afghans in Khost too? Was this not a crime?" The cable quotes the Taliban official, "I (Wakil said) consider you (the U.S.) as murderers of Afghans."

In 1999, on the day Ahmed Ressam was arrested entering the United States, U.S. State Department counterterrorism chief Michael Sheehan calls Taliban foreign minister called Muttawakil and said [bin Laden] "'is like a criminal who lives in your basement. It is no longer possible for you to act as if he’s not your responsibility. He is your responsibility.' The implied threat is that the US will punish the Taliban, possibly with military force, in response to further bin Laden attack. Muttawakil says he understands and urges the US to use restraint."[6]

Warning of 9-11?

He denied the Taliban had any specific prior knowledge of the 9-11 attack, and believes the U.S. may have been planning to destabilize the Taliban before then. Nevertheless, in July 1999, he attempted to send a warning, through an aide, that al-Qaeda was planning a major attack against the U.S., which would draw retaliation onto Afghanistan. Muttawakil, according to the aide, had not learned about the attack from Taliban sources, from the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tahir Yildash. That group used Afghanistan as a sanctuary, providing fighters to the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, and working with al-Qaeda against Uzbekistan.

According to the emissary, Mr Muttawakil emerged from a one-to-one meeting with Mr Yildash looking shocked and troubled. Until then, the Foreign Minister, who had disapproved of the destruction of the Buddhist statues in Bamian earlier in the year, had no inkling from others in the Taliban leadership of what Mr bin Laden was planning.[7] Muttawakil's aide spoke to the U.S. consul general, David Katz, in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then to United Nations officials. The Independent confirmed the Katz meeting. Katz told him that the U.S. could not launch an attack to clear foreigners from Afghanistan, and that the warning was not passed to Washington.

The Taliban messenger said Katz replied that neither action was possible. Nor did Mr Katz pass the warning on to the State Department, according to senior US diplomatic sources.

Muttawakil told the aide, to go to the Kabul offices of UNSMA, the political wing of the UN. "These officials heard him out, but again did not report the secret Taliban warning to UN headquarters. A UN official familiar with the warnings said: 'He appeared to be speaking in total desperation, asking for a Mountain Storm, he wanted a sort of deus ex machina to solve his country's problems. But before 9/11, there was just not much hope that Washington would become that engaged in Afghanistan.'" [7]

References

  1. Ahmed Rashid (2000), Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300089023, p. 24
  2. Chris Sands (February 8, 2007), "The Taliban's Past and Future", The Dominion (Canada)
  3. Kate Clark (October 22, 2003), "Taliban ex-foreign minister released", Independent (U.K.)
  4. Mohammed Al Shafey (January 4, 2009), "Who are the "Moderate Taliban"?", Asharq Al-Awsat
  5. Alan W. Eastham Jr., Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan (December 19, 1998,), Usama bin Ladin: Charge Reiterates U.S. Concern to Key Taliban Official, Who Sticks to Well-Known Taliban Positions, Pre-9/11 U.S. Attempts to Drive Bin Laden Out of Afghanistan Repeatedly Unsuccessful, Documents Show; Taliban Official Blames Saddam Hussein for U.S. Embassy Bombings, vol. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 134 (update), George Washington University National Security Archive
  6. "Profile: Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil", Historycommons
  7. 7.0 7.1 Kate Clark. Revealed: The Taliban minister, the US envoy and the warning of September 11 that was ignored, Independent (U.K.), 2002-09-07. “The minister then ordered him to alert the US and the UN about what was going to happen. But in a massive failure of intelligence, the message was disregarded because of what sources describe as "warning fatigue".”