Friday, October 15, 2010

Did the US just provide a boost to the "one-eyed mullah"?

I am hardly a fan of Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Sunni Pashtun religious leader whom US and Northern Alliance forces drove out of power in Afghanistan in late 2001 and who is now a prominent member of the "Quetta Shura" of Afghan Taliban leaders who are directing from Pakistan at least some elements of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.  Nor would I be at all happy to see him assume an official capacity in any new Afghan government that might emerge in some peace deal between the Karzai government and the "Taliban."

But is it wise for the US (as has been reported) to reject him as more or less automatically disqualified from any such involvement?  For one thing, whatever Americans' opinion of him, he commands great respect among thousands of Afghans (arguably, significantly more respect than is accorded to Hamid Karzai and his government). A year ago, an NYT report noted about him:

Rahimullah Yusufzai, of The News International, a Pakistani newspaper, who interviewed Mullah Omar a dozen times before 2001, called him “a man of few words and not very knowledgeable about international affairs.” But his reputed humility, his legend as a ferocious fighter against Soviet invaders in the 1980s, and his success in ending the lawlessness and bloody warlords’ feuds of the early 1990s cemented his power.

Secondly, any new Afghan government perceived to have been constructed according to US dictates (including, perhaps especially including, dictates that exclude Omar from power)  is going to have from the get-go a major strike against it - and in circumstances in which it will be crucial that as many Afghans as possible - including those whom the US views as religious extremists - are able to buy into it as a legitimate representative and protector of Afghan sovereignty.  And it seems hardly a stretch to believe that for the US to exclude him is only going to rally more support to his side, and cause the deaths and maimings of even more American/NATO troops along with the inevitable "collateral damage" to Afghan civilians.

Finally, isn't it time to cool it with the constant references to Mullah Omar as the "one-eyed leader" or (even worse) the "one-eyed mullah"?  Did we refer to Sammy Davis, Jr., as the "one-eyed performer"?  Or to Moshe Dayan, the eyepatch-wearing Israeli general and defense minister who was lionized in the US media during the 1950s and 1960s, as the "one-eyed commander"?  No - to have done so would have seemed crude and indecent, even discriminatory.  Yet we see that epithet constantly applied to Omar.  When combined with the title of mullah (which, of course, has been customarily prefixed with the adjective "mad" when applied to Iran's religious leadership), it surely conjures up an image of a weird, deformed, even cyclops-like raving fanatic.  It certainly works as wartime propaganda (just as did the World War I references to Germans as "Huns").  But it does nothing to shed some much needed light on who the Taliban, and their leaders and motives, truly are.

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