The reclusive ruler who runs the Taliban
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Still, in the past year, some of the shine has come off the mantle of the current Amirul Momineen of Afghanistan. Some young Pashtuns who used to support Omar, and his dream of a pure Islamic state, are disillusioned.Skip to next paragraph
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Omar has never traveled to Kabul to set up a functioning government. Decisions are made in private with a small council of elders. Funds are often distributed among the Taliban by special envoys who travel to Kandahar for an audience with Omar. A plea is made, and Omar opens a large tin box, kept near his bed, which is filled with US dollars.
Some Afghans now speak of Omar's past year as something of an evolving tragedy, as he continues to be buffeted between Arab, Pakistani, and other influences. Some Muslims sympathetic to the Taliban do not want to see Afghanistan used as a platform for bin Laden's violent pan-Islamic jihad.
"There is no question that at the top levels, the Arabs have grown strong in the past two years," says a young Pakistani journalist who has visited Kandahar recently. "People like Osama and Zawahiri don't have to actually see Omar to influence him. Their presence isn't needed. The circumstances and their moves make it possible."
In the Taliban ranks, there is some dissatisfaction - though US strikes may again bring a rallying to Omar. Still, as the country undergoes drought, farmers are reportedly tired of handing over their sons each year for a jihad to take the Panjshir Valley, held by the Northern Alliance. That's another reason Omar depends on Arab fighters on the front lines.
Moreover, in something of a risky move that did not yield Omar any of the international credit he expected, the Taliban did last year stop an entire harvest of poppy. Farmers growing poppy earn about $5,000 a hectare, as compared with $1200 a hectare for wheat.
Last year as well, a huge truck bomb exploded near Omar's headquarters, killing his brother, and reportedly sending the mullah into a period of troubled silence.
During this time, as well, wealthy Arabs who come to Afghanistan to cut their teeth as radical jihadis - have often been reported as "bossing around" and "treating badly" many of the local Taliban. "We used to see them once in awhile, and knew they lived in camps," says the Pakistani journalist. "But in the past year, they are seen on the streets, in the restaurants, everywhere. Omar seems unaware of this."
In the late 1990s, Omar told Mr. Yousafzai that "I am ready to sacrifice everything in completing the unfinished agenda of our noble jihad...until there is no bloodshed in Afghanistan and Islam becomes a way of life for our people." Yet the country has lived in fear, with continued bloodshed.
Again, in the late 1990s, Omar is on record condemning any export of jihad by the Taliban to neighboring countries, and especially by Osama bin Laden. "We have told Osama not to use Afghan soil to carry out political activities as it creates unnecessary confusion about Taliban objectives," Omar told Yousefzai.
Yet the Pakistani Minister of Interior Moinuddin Haider, who visited Omar last month to persuade him to turn over Osama bin Laden, say the man is isolated: "I told Mullah Omar, 'You have switched off your TV set,'" Mr. Haider told reporters here. "I said, 'You don't have many embassies ...to tell you what is happening. You don't know what the Muslim world is saying right now.'"
Some observers say that Omar, who never finished his Islamic schooling, has become swayed by Gulf Arabs who have Islamic credentials that, for a man with humble origins, must be dazzling.
The scholars and clerics from the schools of Egypt and the land of Saudi Arabia, the land of the prophet, and, in the mind of a fundamentalist, the place where a restoration of "true Islam" must spring from - give these figures great influence on Omar, experts say.
In a Voice of America interview on Sept. 21, Omar said: "God says he will never be satisfied with the infidels. In terms of worldly affairs, America is very strong. Even if it were twice as strong or twice that, it could not be strong enough to defeat us. We are confident that no one can harm us if God is with us."
"I want an independent state for Palestine too," says one local Muslim who has followed the Taliban closely. "But I don't want to put my gun on your shoulder, the way the Arabs are doing with Omar.
"The tragedy is that at the beginning, Omar sounds like the man who will pave the way for the king's [Zahir Shah's] return. He talked about peace and security. But he never said he would try to become the leader of the Muslim world.
But when he says, 'there is one authority, and that is me,' which he has said, influenced by I-don't-know-who, it becomes a farce."