Published on Monday, February 10, 2003 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Anti-U.S. Sentiment Builds in Afghanistan
Stepped-up attacks and a new call for holy war
by Juliette Terzieff
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A call to wage holy war against American-led forces and their allies in Afghanistan by a self-proclaimed spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has pointed up the dangers of rising anti-U.S. sentiment ahead of a possible war with Iraq.
Media organizations in the Pakistani border town of Peshawar received a fax Friday night signed by Mohammad Mukhtar Mujahid, who said he was speaking for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the country's name under the Taliban.
"Afghanistan was deprived of its sovereignty, the Taliban-led Islamic government ousted and the puppet regime of Hamid Karzai installed in its place, " said the fax.
"The country is now in turmoil," it continued, naming two former Taliban leaders, a pair of mullahs named Biradar and Obaidullah, as commanders of the new jihad.
"After having forced British troops to leave Afghanistan and ensuring the demise of the Soviet Union, (we) are now prepared to trigger the downfall of America," it said.
The communication comes at a time of stepped-up attacks against the U.S-led military presence in Afghanistan by remnants of al Qaeda, Taliban fighters and the forces of powerful Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. All three are believed to be allied against Karzai's government.
While local media said some high-ranking Taliban officials in exile confirmed Friday's call, others claim no knowledge of the communique or the man who sent it. People claiming to speak for Mullah Omar have surfaced in the past only to be denounced as frauds or to disappear without a trace after their pronouncements.
"Over the last couple of months, there have been several such calls put out by various groups both here and in Afghanistan," said a Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"Even if the Taliban has not issued this call for action, there are misguided individuals out there who will respond, as we can see from the ongoing attacks."
Religious scholars in Pakistan who fear a return to the widespread bloodshed that ravaged Afghanistan aren't waiting for a stamp of legitimacy.
"This fatwa (religious edict) is not justified," said Izhar ul-Haq, a professor of Islamic studies at the theological seminary in the town of Swat, who believes that fundamentalist movements should confine their battles to the legitimate political realm. "The Taliban should learn to strengthen their ranks to promote stability for their movement and the country.
"Fighting now would be Muslims killing other Muslims in a country where you cannot find a single citizen who has not already been brutalized by war," ul- Haq said.
A six-party religious alliance in Pakistan has demonstrated the possibilities outlined by ul-Haq, gaining control of Baluchistan and North West Frontier Province, both situated along the Afghan border and the reported refuge of many senior Taliban officials.
Since their astounding electoral gains last October, the new provincial governments have pushed ahead their version of proper Islamic societies -- banning music on public transport, restricting access to sexual material on the Internet, and in some towns, instituting forced prayer.
Most analysts say pro-Taliban forces in Afghanistan lack the strength to unleash an open battle with American-allied forces, but that they do have the ability to win over the hearts and minds of Afghans -- especially Pashtuns in the south and west, who are disgruntled with the lack of security and the pace of reconstruction.
Since mid-December, according to Pakistani and European sources, American forces have abandoned five outposts along the Pakistani border as a result of persistent rocket and small-arms attacks; U.S. spokesmen acknowledge only one such move. Sgt. Steven Checo of the 82nd Airborne Division died in a gunfight on Dec. 21 when U.S. forces surprised three men slipping across the border.
Just over two weeks ago, American-led forces engaged in the fiercest fighting in 10 months against 100 fighters in caves near Spin Boldak along the border.
"There is a growing feeling that the Americans may not appreciate the danger or are unprepared to admit its existence," said a Kabul-based European diplomat who requested anonymity. "It seems they are too focused on Iraq, and that is a mistake."
Observers fear that nongovernmental organizations, which are similarly falling victim to increased attacks -- 16 in the last two weeks alone -- will be forced to pull their international personnel and suspend operations in the face of the more severe attacks promised by anti-coalition forces should America attack Iraq.
"If that happens, the already slow reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan may grind to a halt," said the worried diplomat.
And that, in turn, might push more Afghans into the anti-U.S. camp.
"We are worried about a repeat of the past," said the Pakistani intelligence officer. "We are all still paying the bill for the last time America turned its focus away from Afghanistan."
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle