Mullah Omar’s life in Afghanistan is symbolic of failed ‘War on Terror’

Emran Feroz

The ‘War on Terror’ has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people globally, while its most wanted targets hide in plain sight of those waging the war. What does that say about the war?

As the American invasion of Afghanistan continues into its 18th year, more failures of the so-called “War on Terror” start to reveal themselves. One of the biggest bombshells might be that the Taliban’s ‘Supreme leader’ Mullah Mohammad Omar might have lived smack in front of his American enemies for years, completely unnoticed. According to new research by Dutch journalist and researcher Bette Dam, Omar spent the last years of his life in southern Afghanistan’s Zabul province – just a few miles away from a US military base.

As the report says, Omar lived in Zabul in the house of a man called Abdul Samad Ustaz who used to be the driver of Jabbar Omari, the Taliban leader’s longtime bodyguard. According to Jabbari, who was interviewed by Dam, Omar started to live ascetically and in isolation shortly after the US-led invasion began.

While other Taliban members took over the operational leadership, Omar lived in a hidden room and recited verses of the Holy Quran with the help of an old Nokia mobile phone. Omari stated that although locals suspected that a high-ranking Taliban leader was hiding in Ustaz’ house, nobody including his family members knew that it was Mullah Omar himself. American troops once raided the home but they could not find the hidden room where Omar used to live.

Dam’s research was published as a part of her new book ‘Searching For An Enemy’. Some parts of her work were released as a report called “The Secret Life of Mullah Omar” by the newly founded Zomia Center, an American think tank that is “dedicated to the rigorous study of non-state spaces for scholarly and humanitarian pursuits.” However, although the report made international headlines, it was not groundbreaking. For years, some Afghan analysts and Taliban insiders claimed that Mullah Omar lived and died in Afghanistan and not, as some claimed, in any other country.

Afghanistan and the US regularly claimed that the Taliban supreme leader left Afghanistan after the US-led invasion and took sanctuary in neighbouring Pakistan. For that reason, some of the reactions towards Dam’s work are less than surprising. Amrullah Saleh, a current vice-presidential candidate of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former chief of the Afghan intelligence service NDS, described the report as a “manipulative piece of propaganda” and claimed to have “piles of hard evidence which shows that he [Omar] never stepped into Afghanistan after escaping to Pakistan.”

But while Dam has shared her work in detail with the public, Saleh hasn’t offered anything that would support his allegations. The government of President Ashraf Ghani was unhappy with the report. “We strongly reject this delusional claim, and we see it as an effort to create and build an identity for the Taliban. We have sufficient evidence which shows he [Omar] lived and died in Pakistan. Period!”, Haroon Chakansuri, the President’s spokesman, said.

Other people started to question Dam’s work too, and some even attacked her. One academic from the Washington-based neoconservative think tank, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, described her and others who are known for similar work as “Taliban apologists”. At the same time, experts like Borhan Osman, an Afghan analyst with the International Crisis Group and a well-known Taliban expert, said his research also indicated that Mullah Omar spent the rest of his life in Zabul province.

It is evident that both Washington and its Afghan allies will never acknowledge this if it is the truth because of what it says about their governments. While US drones haunted the skies and shadowy elite forces raided countless villages, and killed thousands of innocent Afghans over the years, their main enemy, the Medusa’s head, was in front of their eyes.

Nothing would shatter the narrative of the “War on Terror” more than a reality where Mullah Omar lived in their front yard.

The tale of Mullah Mohammad Omar is emblematic of the total failure of the Afghan war. On October 7, 2001, a Predator drone was flying over the southern city of Kandahar – known as the Taliban’s stronghold. It was the very first operation of an armed drone in human history, and its target was nobody else than Omar himself. As we know today, the operation, like all the others following, failed. The Hellfire missiles did not kill Omar but instead took the lives of other nameless and faceless Afghans.

During the umpteen years of war, many other people have been killed instead of Mullah Omar. Like many other militant leaders, like Jalaluddin Haqqani and Ayman al Zawahiri, Omar was “killed” a couple of times before he appeared alive again. Both Haqqani and Omar died naturally while Zawahiri is still assumed to be alive. The question of who has been killed, in his place, is still rarely asked, especially by folks in Kabul, Washington and elsewhere. They continue to portray their “War on Terror” as a success story. It’s a story that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands while it has also made others rich and powerful.

Mullah Omar died in 2013. Two years later, his death was officially declared. As also the recent research underlines, the Taliban leader fell ill, but he did not want to leave his country for medical care. Six years after Omar’s death, the Taliban are stronger than ever. They control large parts of Afghanistan and negotiate with the Americans on an equal footing. The fact that the American “War on Terror” is nothing short of a total disaster built on a narrative that fewer and fewer people want to believe, this failure too, needs to be acknowledged finally.

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