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Bush versus Umar
By Gen. (Rtd) Mirza Aslam Beg

The article by Pakistan’s army chief was written about 13th of October, the sixth day of America's War of Terror against Afghanistan. Many things have changed since but the basic principle remains: the difference between the ‘civilizations’ of Bush and Omar-- of brutal force and faith.

Both leaders are as far apart in their approach to life as Washington and Kabul. George Bush threatened to hunt the terrorists, kill them, to throw Afghanistan into the Stone Age, get Osama dead or alive, defeat the Taliban and install a pro-US regime, whereas Mulla Umar remained calm, cool and mysterious as the sea. The Taliban shoora suggested Osama could leave Afghanistan (provided Saudi Arabia restored his citizenship). It also suggested dialogue with the US, but these suggestions were considered presumptuous and promptly rejected. US and allied forces were mobilized for aerial attacks on Afghanistan starting October 7, hitting targets such as air bases, command and communication centres, electric power stations, Osama's suspected hideouts and terrorist training camps. In response Mulla Umar declared jihad and asked the Muslim countries meeting at Doha on October 10 to either choose to support the US or Afghanistan. The Ummah opted in favour of the US.
Mulla Umar is thus alone in his fight against the US and the allies, while in the 1980s the Afghans fought the Soviets supported by the USA and its allies. The odds now seem to be 100 to one against Mulla Umar and the Taliban. After six days [over one month by now] of air action, the US claimed to have achieved air supremacy over Afghanistan. (I bet a single Pakistani F-16 can gain air supremacy over Afghanistan in a single day against the Taliban's obsolete aircraft and air defence). Over 300 innocent [more than thousands by now] civilians have been killed, ground opposition softened, and the US are now preparing to launch heli- and airborne troops against selected targets. Bush has threatened that such punishment will continue indefinitely.
After six days of bombing, it was claimed that communication centres have been destroyed. Yet the Taliban's command communication network, based on portable walkietalkie sets, is fully operative. Their logistic support has no tail, as it follows the foot soldiers and the local population provides extra support. Their strength has swelled to about 60,000 armed fighters. The local militia and armed jihadis now number 30,000-40,000. More are on the move from the tribal belt of Pakistan and other areas. The Taliban are waiting for the ground battle, as their strength lies in the foot soldiers, difficult terrain and the experience of fighting outnumbered. The Taliban plan to hold cities and towns lightly, lure the enemy in, and then encircle them for destruction. Their morale is high as they have not experienced the shock of US airpower, but compete to locate the falling bombs and claim the lead and cartridges which sell at a premium. They prefer cluster bombs, as they deliver greater payloads of lead and cartridges. They have already collected about 20 unexploded Tomahawk missiles, waiting for a buyer, including Pakistanis who got 27 such missiles free in 1998 for reverse engineering. Taliban hold enough stocks of weapons and ammunition.

Replenishment is no problem, because borders with Pakistan and Iran are porous. The Stingers, whose shelf life is almost over, have reportedly been replaced with more effective systems. The Taliban, who have been fighting the Afghan opposition since 1994, are now fully steeled. They have found substance and meaning in the jihad against the Americans and are prepared to fight to the last to defeat the aggression. The US war against the Taliban goes to prove that they were not a plant. They truly represent the tribal will of Afghanistan. In fact they are the young generation, which has taken control of the destiny of the Afghan people in the form of the Taliban, similar to the youth in Iran which has given the verdict in favour of an Islamic Democratic Order, providing the psychological harmony between the two countries, to face the common threat.
Opposing the Taliban on ground are the three factions of the Northern Alliance, mainly mercenaries. The faction under Ismail Khan had been operating east of Herat in remote Ghor province. Some Dostum supporters are operating west of Mazar-e-Sharif but they do not pose a real threat, as the Pakhtoons around Mazar-e-Sharif themselves are capable of thwarting any attempt towards the city. The main wing of the Northern alliance of 10,000-12,000 soldiers, under Mulla Faheem in Badakhshan, is a demoralized force, waiting to ride the US tanks into Kabul, where they will find the Taliban waiting for them.

In the south, Zahir Shah supporters, with the help of agencies and some political parties are trying to raise a militia from the tribal belt of Paktia, Paktika, Khost and Logar. Some old jihadi commanders like Dr Abdullah, Dr Abdul Rahman and Commander Bismillah, have been identified as leaders. All possible methods are being used to buy tribals' support for the new opposition group, but most tribes like the Waziris, Shinwaris, Mohmands, Kharots, Zadrans and Tanais have decided to support the Taliban. The Tanais, a known pro-Shah tribe, received the bulk of the relief airdrop recently, but were condemned as Israeli/US agents and forced to burn the foodstuff to prove their loyalty to the Taliban.

The turn of the events has placed Iran in a unique position. The statements by their leaders, condemning the US military action, reportedly brought tears to Mulla Umar's eyes, as they are the only country, which shares the pain of their suffering, deprivation and isolation.

The US has a clear technological edge over the Taliban so long as it continues using airpower from safe heights of 20,000 ft-plus. Now they appear ready to launch lightning ground attacks, to occupy and destroy selected targets and return to their bases without getting involved in combat with the Taliban. Such operations will continue for some time, till the Northern alliance under Mulla Fahim or the southern alliance under Dr Abdullah is ready to venture towards Kabul and Kandahar. They may well reach their objectives but to hold these cities would be impossible without the physical support of US troops. In 1979, having installed a puppet regime at Kabul, the Soviets had to induct more than 100,000 troops to sustain it, but failed. How many troops can the US bring, is to be seen.

George Bush and Mulla Umar, representing two different civilizations and different values of life, are pitched against each other, not being able to establish a balance between freedom and responsibility. One is overly intoxicated with being a superpower, enjoying the support of the civilized world, boiling with anger and urge for revenge. The other, having suffered the ravages of war for over two decades, with a population suffering from hunger, drought and disease, abandoned by their traditional friend Pakistan and forsaken by the Ummah, are totally resigned to their destiny and faith in Allah, which makes death an adorable commitment, is ready to face the challenge, presenting the dialectics of opposing wills - one equipped with material strength and the other with faith.
This indeed is a unique war, which will prove that the grandeur and depth of human life is too great to be captured in one culture.
Tolstoy said: "Faith is the force of life." The Taliban may well prove him right. 
q

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