Profile: Mohammad Omar

Born to a poor agricultural family in Singesar, south-western Afghanistan, in 1960, the devoted son, Mohammad, went to study theology in Pakistan, in one of the Madrassa (Koranic schools), near Karachi. These schools provide an education for interested pupils from poor families.

Little is known of Mohammad Omar until the early 1980s, when he appeared as a guerrilla leader fighting against the Soviet Armed Forces in Afghanistan. It was then that he came into contact with his best friend and fishing companion, Osama Bin Laden, a friendship which transcended the responsibilities of a leader of his country, if not all of his people, resulting in the current situation of chaos in which the country is emerged.

Shortly before he launched the Taleban movement in the Spring of 1994, Mohammad Omar was called by the humble people of his village, Singesar, who complained that two local girls had been tied up, shaved and gang-raped by Mujaheddin militia. Mohammad Omar gathered together 30 former guerrillas, found the girls, freed them and hanged the Mujaheddin leaders.

It was acts of savagery like this committed by the Mujaheddin which may have led to the austere regime of strict discipline that Mohammad Omar imposed on his country. Certainly, in a country where two local Mujaheddin leaders destroyed half a city (Kandahar), killing tens of civilians, amid salvoes of missiles, mortars and bazookas, over a dispute as to which of the two was going to perform anal sex with a ten-year-old boy, strict discipline was necessary.

The Taleban movement was thus launched, more by accident than design, to control the growing anarchy within the country after the US-backed Mujaheddin had ousted the communist government of Dr. Najibullah from Kabul, the first government to address the country’s severe social problems. It was also this government which opened up career paths for women more than any other.

Initially, the Taleban were greeted with enthusiasm as they systematically clamped down on the Mujaheddin warlords and drugs barons who had taken over the country. They were seen as a movement which restored a minimum of order over total chaos. Mohammad Omar told the Pakistani journalist Rahimullah Yousifzei that “We were fighting Moslems who had gone wrong. How could we remain quiet when we could see crimes being committed against women and the poor?” However, somewhere, somehow, things went wrong.

A regime which imposed a strict and eccentric interpretation of the Qu’ran, banning all activities which distracted people from praying, may have been a reflection of the personal psyches of Mohammad Omar and Osama Bin Laden, the first, reacting against his poor origins and the second, against his misspent youth, in his quest for attention. Naughty boy Osama craved the attention of the father who abandoned him, through death, when he was ten years old. Mohammad Omar mixed traditional Pashtun lore with Islamic law in his personal fix for the ills of the country he came to dominate, more by chance than by design.

The end result was a regime which imposed a prohibition of almost all earthly pleasures. Lobster, television, cinema, enamel, statues, nail varnish, satellite dishes, photographs of people and animals, stuffed toys, the Internet, computer discs, non-religious music, dancing, musical instruments, cards, ties, chess, lipstick, fireworks, catalogues, poppies, pig fat, human hair products, women drivers, female students and kite flying.

While ridiculed by those outside Afghanistan, it should be pointed out that kite making and flying takes on special importance in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Kites are hand-made to fly at heights of several kilometres, the strings coated in cut glass. The kites are launched not as a form of diversion, but instead of battle, as any other kite in the sky is seen as a target to be attacked. The flier uses great dexterity to wind his string around the other, cut it and bring in both kites. Kite flying was thus attacked from a moral standpoint totally misunderstood by those who use this prohibition as a mainstay of their attacks against the Taleban.

However, the Taleban lost touch with their people through an excessive imposition of the Sharia (Islamic law), which inflicted mutilations, decapitations, public stoning and torture on its people, the imposition of the burqah (total coverage) on women, who were denied schooling and the prohibition of male doctors from touching the bodies of women. A reclusive figure, who lived in total austerity in Kandahar, the ultra-shy Mohammad Omar imposed his personal limitations on the movement he created.

Nevertheless, Mohammad Omar is no fool. In an interview with the Pakistan daily, Dawn, in 1997, he declared that Afghanistan would be attacked by the USA using Osama Bin Laden as a pretext because the Taleban had refused to allow an American company to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean.

Mohammad Omar, The “Commander of the Faithful” is likely to be receiving traditional Moslem hospitality among his Pashtun kinsmen during Ramadan. If he chooses to go into hiding, it will be extremely difficult to ascertain his whereabouts. In any case, any formal charges brought against him by the USA would be questionable under international law. After all, what has he done, which can be proven beyond all reasonable doubt?


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