The South Asia Channel
This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Name: Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil Age: 45 Ethnicity: Pashtun Province: Kandahar America’s prolonged war in Afghanistan has brought many achievements and opportunities to the country’s ordinary citizens. Millions of children have found their ways into schools, women have been given opportunities ...
This project was made possible by support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
Name: Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil
America’s prolonged war in Afghanistan has brought many achievements and opportunities to the country’s ordinary citizens. Millions of children have found their ways into schools, women have been given opportunities to work outside of their homes, the economy has grown rapidly, the country has a relatively reliable security force, and there is a new constitution in place, accrediting the widest range of democratic and civic values in the region. But not everyone has benefitted from these changes.
One such person is Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, the Taliban’s former foreign minister, who went from being the chief diplomat of a resolute regime just blinks away from capturing 100 percent the country to an ordinary citizen living west of Kabul. Every once in a while, some journalists would knock on his door to seek comments about potential peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government or the group’s change of strategy, but that was about it.
On Sep. 9, 2014, the 13th anniversary of Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud’s murder — the event which could have marked the Taliban’s ultimate victory, but turned into a cause for defeat — I sat with Mutawakil. Now running a civil organization called the Afghan Foundation and a private university, Mutawakil is a typical Afghan leader. In him, one can see a generation of traditional tribal leaders: men who rose to power by harvesting people’s passions for peace and justice in the midst of cruelty and chaos; leaders with weak academic and professional credentials elevated by historic turbulence.
Mutawakil’s current tasks running the foundation and university seem to be more challenging than those associated with operating the foreign policy machine of a regime that dealt with only three countries (the Taliban government was officially recognized by only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates). Though his university still embodies many of the Taliban’s values — male and female students climb up separate staircases to enter separate classrooms; shaved faces and jeans are rarely seen — as secular education systems emerge in Afghanistan, colleges such as Mutawakil’s might not be so welcomed by Afghan youth.
The following are the words of Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil as told to and translated by Moh. Sayed Madadi.
I was born in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province and received my primary education in the village. During the time of Babrak Karmal [the third Communist president who governed from December 1979 to May 1986], I went to Pakistan. There I continued my education. The year that the Taliban emerged, I graduated from the Ashrafia madrassa, which is now a famous one in Kandahar — back then it was in Quetta, Pakistan. I came back to Kandahar and joined the Tahrik [the Taliban] and was appointed the provincial director of culture and information. Then I was the Tahrik’s spokesperson and advisor to the amir [leader Mullah Mohammed Omar]. My last assignment was as the minister of foreign affairs.
I joined the Tahrik in the very beginning for national interests. There was the threat of disintegration and anarchy; there was the injustice of warlords. Considering all of these, there were people from the tanzims — 15 jihadi factions formed in Iran and Pakistan to fight the Soviets and later in the civil war — who left to found the Taliban. “Taliban” means students and we rose after many mistakes were committed by teachers like [late president Burhanuddin] Rabbani, [Hezb-i-Islami founder and leader Gulbuddin] Hekmatyar, and [former warlord Abdul Rab Rasul] Sayyaf. The students wanted to correct them. [Ironically, many of factional leaders who fought the Soviets and in the civil war were university lecturers.]
Our emergence wasn’t very smooth, and we faced resistance. There were inter-group rivalries because Taliban leaders were also war commanders. Mullah Omar himself was a commander of the Islamic Revolution Movement, [a jihadi coalition led by Maulana Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi and comprised of Rabbani’s Jamiate, Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami, and Nasrullah Mansur’s Khudam Ul-Furqan parties; though the first two left the coalition soon after its formation. Mohammadi became the vice president in Rabbani’s administration].
Based widely in the southern provinces, the majority of the movement’s members joined the Taliban. We fought in Zabul, Ghazni, and Wardak to reach Kabul. But when Kabul collapsed, a wave of political leaders went to Mazar-e-Sharif, where we also fought two bloody wars. I know many people were killed, but I reject the claim that it was based on ethnic lines. People were killed on all sides for being belligerents or suspected of being so. We didn’t kill them merely because they were Hazaras. For us, the sharia was what was important. It is the trend of every movement; there is the invitation — the book [the Quran] and the pen — in one hand and the sword in another. Those who do not accept should be summoned by force.
Yet every movement has its pros and cons. I don’t say we were as bad as the Western media has portrayed us nor were we as good as the Taliban claims. But there were many positive things that we did, including good security, low corruption, and low drugs. Some say we were too violent, but the reality is that governments should have “violent authority” [a monopoly over the use of force]. Even in Europe, police officials beat people. Look at the current Afghan government, the police are not so benign with street vendors. We should recognize the good and bad of a system. For example, no matter how much we hate the Communists, they built some good roads and government buildings, like the Ministry of Telecommunication.
As for the Taliban, we had a counseling emirate. Decisions weren’t made autocratically. Yes, the final word was that of the amir, but there was a Council of Ministers and an appointed Religious Council, which acted like today’s parliament. The amir heard officials’ concerns and advice. He was a kind, but intransigent man who talked less, but listened more. I remember he used to talk over lunch that what bothered him the most was the situation of Afghan women: that he couldn’t see them illiterate and oppressed, yet the Taliban was unable to enter the houses to help them out.
When the Taliban took power, Afghanistan had some Arab guests who had remained from the time of jihad. It was decided that they would be allowed to stay and problems with the West weren’t solved. These all gave excuses to foreign powers — even non-Asians — led by the United States to invade Afghanistan and defeat the Taliban in an asymmetrical war.
When Kandahar collapsed, I went to Pakistan with my family for security reasons. I stayed there for one month and corresponded with local government officials in Kandahar, telling them that I was interested to come back as a normal civilian citizen. They told me they had no problem with that, but the foreigners did. Still, I returned to my home in Maiwand. I didn’t surrender, as some say, because I wasn’t a combatant; I was a former high-ranking civilian government official. The next day, American troops raided my house and took me into custody. They interrogated and imprisoned me for almost two years. When I was released, I still remained in home-custody for approximately another year. Then I moved to Kabul and started cultural works, translating books from Arabic and teaching. I never liked wars, so even in the Taliban regime, I occupied no military position.
Now, after years of fighting, some expect the Taliban to initiate peace talks as foreign troops are leaving or to join the national unity government. I think this is very unrealistic and is not going to happen. Foreigners are still in Afghanistan. They control the government and the economy of the country. One cannot ignore the fact that this government is highly influenced by foreigners. Its constitution was written by foreigners in a time of emergency and doesn’t represent all Afghans, and its structure is a copy of the American model without considering its adaptability here.
For the Taliban, independence and an Islamic government are very important and neither has been realized. However, I think peace is the most important thing. War is not the normal state, it is peace. Even if we suppose — as some do — that the Taliban takes over the current government, that wouldn’t be sustained. Only the positions will change: Those from the cities will go to caves and mountains, and the people from the mountains will occupy the cities. In my personal view, peace looks to be the most realistic and feasible option, and a parliamentary system would contribute much to the process.
Moh. Sayed Madadi is a Kabul-based Afghan civil activist working on democratic governance and human rights. He is a member of the Afghan Coalition for Transparency and Accountability, a civil society group advocating for good governance, and the co-founder of the Youth Empowerment Organization, which focuses on youth engagement in local governance.