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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Much ado about financial transparency in the media


Whose financial records should the BFIU really be investigating?

It’s very well understood why journalists’ professional bodies were outraged at the government’s financial transparency agency for seeking the bank details of media leaders.

On the evening of September 12, TV channels and news portals reported that media leaders gave their pro-active reactions to online newspapers and welcomed the Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU) of Bangladesh Bank seeking the bank account details of 11 elected journalist leaders.

The BFIU, an agency responsible for investigating suspicious transactions, sent a letter to all banks, asking them to provide account details of only the media leaders.

The following day, the National Press Club, the two factions of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ), Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ), and Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU), in separate media statements, expressed concern over seeking financial information only of elected leaders and found the action “ill-motivated.”

Unfortunately, the journalist’s unions are divided by a thick partisan line. So is the status of the National Press Club. The contesting candidates’ panels are explicitly split between supporters of the ruling Awami League and those of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, with their all-weather ally Jamaat-e-Islam.

Possibly, the financial intelligence agency did not foresee that two factions of BFUJ, DUJ, and bipartisan leaderships in the National Press Club and DRU did not merge, but are standing shoulder to shoulder after (temporarily) burying their partisanship divide.

This is indeed a major joint movement of the factions of different unions. The leaders of BFUJ, DUJ, and DRU had jointly held protest meetings for weeks after the sensational double murder of the journalist couple Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi in 2012. The murder remains a mystery. The DRU continued to protest, while other journalist bodies silently took a back seat in demanding justice for the twin murder.

Some wonder whether it is possible to ask professional journalists for self-declarations of their assets and other sources of income for financial integrity in other professions. But who will dare to bell the cat?

There is no guideline for journalists to submit financial statements before contesting an election for any media professional body. As Dr Shadin Malik, constitutional law expert wrote in a column in Prothom Alo -- the BFIU does not have the mandate to examine the media leaders’ bank accounts. First, the BFIU was mandated to probe money laundering and terror financing. Second, the listed names are not under investigation for suspicious transactions.

Possibly, journalism is the only profession in the country where a recruit in the profession does not need to face an ethics board, appear for a written and oral exam, take an oath, or sign a code of conduct. It is expected that news organizations and scribes should remain steadfast in the principles of transparency, abide by the ethics of journalism, and sign a code of conduct.

This could only have been developed by the Press Council if professional media bodies would have taken initiative.

Often, videos surfaced on social media, showing certain journalists exploiting their positions by rubbing shoulders with state and non-state actors, compromising professional ethics.

The extravaganzas in the election campaigns by different reporters’ groups have been noticed. It’s a conspiracy of silence that the influential candidates spend generously on drink and dinner parties for the merriment of the voters.

Similarly, the spending of candidates vying for top posts in the National Press Club, BFUJ, DUJ, and DRU also becomes visible during the elections. The cash is acquired from rogue politicians, land sharks, smugglers, and even underworld criminals -- who are all hand-in-glove with those tainted journalists.

Shouldn’t the assets and bank details of such journalists, media owners, and especially TV channels be sought out by the authorities?

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 28 September 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Remands will soon be found in the museum


The outspoken human rights lawyer Zahirul Islam Khan Panna assertively said that “the practice of remand will soon be found in a bolted iron cage in the museum.”

Remand, as Dr Masum Billah, a teacher of law at the Jagannath University, has said, is not found in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), the Bible for judiciary and police crime management. The practice of obtaining remands for suspects or the accused from judicial magistrate courts is unconstitutional.

The police exercise section 167 of the CrPC, which ushers the victim into legal harassment and also intimidates victims with ill motives, flexing their political power. 

Advocate Panna did not hesitate to add that remands are mostly used for extortion from families after they hear about the police brutality the alleged accused face in police stations. From January to August of 2021, legal rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) reported 44 deaths in judicial custody. The report points fingers at the perpetrators from the police force, elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB).

Unsurprisingly, the RAB has been blamed for 17 custodial deaths caused by torture. Next is the police for the deaths of 11 suspects, followed by the BGB (9 deaths). Most of these victims died in custody during interrogation, which has been practised since the British colonial era. 

Most senior officers of law enforcement agencies have participated in training courses in different countries on crime management, techniques of interrogation, investigation, and knowledge of forensic science vis-à-vis the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

During the ongoing War on Terror campaign, also known as the Global War on Terrorism spearheaded by the United States in the aftermath of 9/11, hundreds of officers from the Bangladesh Police, security intelligence from the armed forces, and national intelligence attended courses on how to handle a suspect red-flagged as a terrorist. 

In addition, hundreds of police officers were deployed in peacekeeping under UN missions abroad training them in human rights. 

While in remand in November 2002, my torturer was in a UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and the interrogator from the DGFI attended a counterterrorism course in America under the WoT program.

Many human rights researchers claim that the century-old torture in custody has significantly decreased, while rights groups say that the curve of death in custody has not straightened. 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has continued to urge the members of the Bangladesh Police to build themselves as a “pro-people force” -- a call that could not be more appropriate for ensuring human rights and strengthening democracy. Human rights abuses are endemic and most citizens who come in contact with the police complain of corruption and torture. 

In its assessment report, the International Crisis Group stated that a successful police reform can only be sustained if it is linked to a judiciary that enforces the rule of law and effectively protects individual rights and assures citizen security. 

It warned that if the police continue to be used for political ends, it will affect democracy, law and order, crime and corruption, national security, and the economic growth in Bangladesh.

The much ado about the Police Reform Program (PRP), which was funded by the United Nations, European Union, and British DFID, is back to square one. Ironically, the pro-Islamist alliance Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami-led government scuttled the PRP. The military-backed caretaker regime resuscitated the program in 2008.

With police reforms, Bangladesh could have been a more secure and stable country, where the human rights of citizens, particularly the vulnerable and marginalized, were promoted and protected to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), economic growth, and social justice.

The police bundled up their learning experience from the police reforms initiative and instead resorted to torture in judicial custody in name of extracting “vital” information needed for their investigations. 

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 21 September 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, a media rights defender, and a recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at; Twitter @saleemsamad

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Winners of ‘Talibanistan’

Taliban Fighters and Truck in Kabul, August 17 2021. Wikimedia commons


Dhaka: Outspoken physicist Prof Pervez Hoodbhoy is based in Pakistan. In his popular column in the Dawn newspaper, published from Karachi says that Russia and the United States are squarely responsible for Afghanistan’s tragedy but Pakistan is certainly not innocent.

The political historians cannot hold their emotion that Afghanistan is often described as the “graveyard of empires” and never have been conquered by invaders.

The British or Soviet Russia failed to dominate the ferocious nation. The fiercest tribes fought all the invaders from the Persian and Arabs. Several centuries ago, Alexander the Great (Greek) and Tamerlane (Mongol) had to pack up and head for home.

After Russia’s withdrawal in 1988, Pakistan’s military hawks in Rawalpindi trained the Taliban to take over Afghanistan following a devastating civil war with the Mujahideen.

Some apologetic security analysts argue that new Taliban’s are reformed and have graduated from barbarianism to moderate militants. Many others trashed the argument and said the Taliban leadership has not moved an inch from the radical interpretation of Sunni Islam.

The cleric’s high command moved from Qatar to Kandahar has begun to execute the strict Sharia code, which is slated as misogynist to subjugate the vibrant Afghan women, especially those tens and thousands who rose in the last two decades.

The Taliban’s occupation ushers the demise of the women in higher education, sports (football and cricket), fashion industry, musical choir and choreography, not to speak of the fate of award-winning filmmaker Roya Sadat.

Talibanistan will be a living hell for millions of Afghans who dreamt of pluralism, democracy, freedom of expression, and freedom of faith.

Taliban-wallas cannot deny their three-decade nexus with Pakistan’s spy agency ISI bonded in a trusted relationship.

Most of the families of the top Taliban leaders live in Pakistan for their security and safety coordinated by Rawalpindi.

With full knowledge of the Rawalpindi, the Taliban regime provided sanctuary to the dreaded international terror network Al-Qaeda, which launched brazen 9/11 attacks on the soil of the United States.

The emergence of the Taliban after 20 years will surely benefit other regional players from the invasion. The country is obviously a win for all who wish to see the Americans humiliated. Iran is happy to see that the United States and NATO left her neighborhood.

Obviously, the “winners” are China, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia and Turkey. Most of these countries hosted the Taliban and backed them up.

Landlocked Afghanistan, unfortunately, has two rogue states Iran and Pakistan as its neighbors. Pakistan and Iran should be held responsible for destroying Afghanistan and creating a new Talibanistan state.

Pakistan is also a winner when its Prime Minister Imran Khan said Afghans have broken the “shackles of slavery”.

Pakistan is looking forward to the Taliban joining the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

That would boost Pakistan’s ailing economy amid the Covid-19 pandemic and lack of US aid.

Christine Fair, a security pundit explains that Pakistan will continue to use 1.4 million Afghan refugees as rent-seekers from international aid organizations and sympathy of the west.

Weeks before the collapse of Kabul, both Russia and China held parleys with high-profile Taliban delegations.

Like China and Pakistan, the Russian diplomatic mission remained open in Afghanistan. Russia wants secure borders for its Central Asian allies and to stymie terrorism and drug trafficking.

The two power players, Russia and China for a century have had a love and hate relationship. They played a crucial role in the United Nations Security Council meets on the Afghanistan crisis. With Moscow and Beijing’s support, the Taliban is likely to obtain international clout.

The preceding Kabul government showed cold feet to join the “Golden Ring” nexus – proposed by China’s vision of Road and Belt Initiative (BRI) megaproject in West Asia.

Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey gave their green signal to the Chinese “Golden Ring” nexus for their superiority in South and West Asia.

The axis of evil has its eyes on energy and rich mineral resources in Afghanistan, plus transnational gas pipeline through the heartland of Talibanistan.

For now, the Afghanistan debacle is a major setback for the image of the USA globally in terms of the perception that US-backed systems tend to be as weak and temporary as the grass that greens with the spring and withers in the fall.

A humorist posted on social media writes: Taliban’s has proved HG Wells’ time-machine is possible, but the device goes backward into the 7th century, unfortunately, it does not have a fast-forward lever.

First published in Pressenza portal, 14 September 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender in Bangladesh. Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad

Remand is torture, extortion in police custody


“Remand” is a common word used in crime stories in newspapers and television news, mentioned when a suspect is detained and a remand is sought from a magistrate court for further interrogation.

Each time a remand is sought, the suspect experiences torture and humiliation in police custody. Any suspect in police custody is supposed to be safe and secured. In Bangladesh, it’s dangerous for an accused person to be in police custody.

Unfortunately, this legacy has been inherited by the police from the autocratic regime of Pakistan, and Pakistan inherited it from the British colonialists, who tortured revolutionaries and activists of the Swadeshi Movement.

In November 2002, I was accused of sedition, along with other foreign journalists of Channel 4 TV. In the wee hours of Friday in the month of Ramadan, I was hauled up from my friend’s apartment in Uttara. After Jumma prayers, I was driven to the Dhaka District Judicial Magistrate court in the old town.

Four armed plainclothes policemen in an unmarked van with shotguns protruding from the windows. A decoy vehicle accompanied us to cheat the paparazzi photographers and TV cameras. Two lorries with scores of police in riot gear escorted the “person of interest.”

The Friday traffic was thin and reached the court premise quickly. I wanted to get down but was asked to stay put while the detective police officers with walkie-talkies smoked and chewed pan (betel leaves). After several minutes, an officer snarled at the policemen to board the vehicles and head towards the Detective Branch (DB) HQ at Minto Road.

The unknown magistrate granted remand for five days without my appearance at the court. That was the reality of a democratically elected regime of Begum Khaleda Zia (2001-2006), which swept back to power after the October 1, 2001 elections.

Her regime refused to tolerate any critics, dissidents, and opposition. Delinquents were severely reprimanded. The reign of terror by police and intelligence agencies was to instil fear among nonconformist citizens.

Arbitrary arrests, torture, death in custody, legal harassments, enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings were rampant. This situation further deteriorated when her administration launched “Operation Clean Heart'' in the winter of 2001-2002. World leaders and international organizations expressed grave concern over the violation of the fundamental rights of the citizens.

On return from the magistrate court, Kohinoor Miah, the deputy police commissioner of DB who had close ties with Hawa Bhaban, took me to a powerhouse outside the prime minister’s office run by Khaleda’s rogue eldest son Tarique Rahman and thrashed me with a baton wrapped with electric wires and hit my knee cap (which does not swell). After iftar, he again assaulted me and threw me on the floor and held his service revolver on my forehead and screamed that he should shoot me for defaming the country.

During five days of remand, three military officers of DGFI tortured me during interrogation and wanted me to confess a fairytale conspiracy that they had written on their storyboard. I was determined not to confess, nor did I sign any print-outs downloaded from the internet. Thus the scale of suffering increased. I was also denied food, drinking water, a toothbrush, and soap to clean after defecation.

Suddenly the torture stopped on the fourth day of the remand. A detained underworld don living in the same prisoner’s cell said that the torturer did not want to show fresh marks of torture to the magistrate.

Recently, the High Court made an exception to remand popular movie star Pori Moni three times. The judge observed that conceding multiple remand conflicts with the Supreme Court guidelines on arrests, detention and interrogation of suspects. Justice Mustafa Zaman Islam and Justice KM Zahid Sarwar Kajol said the repeated permission for remanding Pori Moni challenged the independence of the judiciary.

Veteran human rights lawyer Zahirul Islam Khan Panna told the court on a petition seeking directives that the guideline for remand is only followed by the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) during the arrests, detention, and interrogation of war crime suspects.

First published the Dhaka Tribune, 14 September 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter @saleemsamad

Saturday, September 11, 2021

From guns to government

Taliban occupies Presidential Palace in Kabul on 15 August


Dhaka: Let’s not discuss whether the world leaders will extend legitimacy to Kabul’s new jihadist regime, which is much ado about nothing on the promise for an inclusive government.

For both the issue, the world will have to wait for a long time to understand the political development in Afghanistan.

The century-old progressive Afghanistan was once again rechristened as ‘Talibanistan’.

The United States, Britain, European Union, also India and Bangladesh were left wondering after the so-called interim regime of Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada was announced last week.

The Taliban have not spelt out measures against counterterrorism and public policies on women rights, gender equality, higher education, amnesty for Afghan armed forces, police, judiciary, diplomats, government officials remain vague.

The freedom of expression, press freedom and freedom of assembly have become political taboo in Talibanistan and has been discarded as a western concept.

The hardliner Mullahs who have been selected to govern the country are mostly flagged by the United Nations, European Union (EU), US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and red-listed by Interpol for terrorism with links to 9/11 masterminded by dreaded Al Qaeda.

The Taliban leaders who were in exile in Qatar were often described as reformed Islamists by western media and apologists security pundits.

Each day, the sceptic observers are discovering that the Taliban’s has proved that HG Wells ‘time machine’ is a reality and not mere science fiction.

The Mullahs have succeeded in pushing the nation into the medieval age Arab Bedouins in the desserts. Taliban’s ‘time machine’ has not been designed with a fast-forward lever. Unfortunately, it will remain stranded in the 7th century in the foreseeable future, unless another bloody revolution jolts the nation from the yokes of barbarians.

The rugged mountains and lush green valley were graves of tens of thousands of foot soldiers of the invaders from the north and south. From Alexander the Great to Taimur Lang, the British, the Soviet Union and the now media agog with the American’s had to make a humiliating exit from Afghanistan.

Once a secular nation – home of various religions and cultural communities lived in harmony after the British colonialists decided to leave the Afghans alone after the Durand Line agreement 1893, which divides the Pashtuns between Afghanistan and India (now Pakistan).

After the Soviet Union’s military and political intervention in Afghanistan refused to compromise with their religious practices, language and tradition to be replaced by Marxism.

The Soviet Union (now Russia) literally wanted to spoon feed communism through a reign of terror, which was rejected and also pointed their barrels of the guns towards the Soviet Union military and oust the puppet regime.

The anger against socialism, which contradicts their conservative culture and tradition turned bloody. The villagers and warlords declared war against the Soviet Union.

The Soviets were militarily challenged by conglomerate countries and vested parties which wanted a slice of cake in strategic geopolitical hegemony.

In the conundrum, Pakistan offered its soil as a launching pad for recruitment, training and providing weapons by the United States, with the tacit support of China and Saudi Arabia.

The alliance of Mujahideen of tribal chiefs, warlords, mercenaries and dictates of Pentagon and Pakistan’s military hawks in Rawalpindi GHQ caused the regime to melt and collapsed.

Meanwhile, the ragtag foot soldiers recruited from hundreds of madrassas (Quranic schools) in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) now rechristened as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa partnered mercenaries from Bangladesh, Chechnya, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kashmir, Malaysia, Philippines, Syria and Turkey. The jihadists were trained and armed by Pakistan spy agency ISI with a one-way ticket to heaven.

The misogynist and arrogant Taliban’s gave a Sunni interpretation of Islam, enforced Sharia laws to subjugate the women, punish the critics and opposition.

Twenty years ago, the Americans came with full military might with allies from NATO militaries to hunt and punish offenders of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. Initially, the Pentagon military invasion plans succeeded and installed a puppet regime in Kabul with western education.

More than seventy per cent of Afghans do not live in cities. Gradually the Afghans understood that politicians and the regime in Kabul were involved in widespread corruption, money laundering and plundering, while the country’s ‘mango people’ suffered poverty, hunger and deprivation.

The simmering anger was exploited by the Taliban’s leadership and tens of thousands of Afghan youths from the rugged mountains joined the jihad to oust the Kabul regime. Rest is history.

The Taliban might have made achievements in diplomacy and developing the media into confidence, but running a government headed who unfortunately does not have any experience.

The Mullahs will have to rely heavily on China, Pakistan and Iran for economic development. While the partnership with Turkey and Qatar is needed to stabilise the country sitting on a volcano.

Peace and stability will remain a far cry in Afghanistan in months to come.

First published in the India News Stream, 11 September 2021

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Economy, hunger, drought, poverty challenges the Taliban

Taliban militants patrolling streets of Kabul - Reuters


While world leaders and international organizations are eagerly awaiting for the chicken to hatch from the Taliban’s government, they have begun to implement the Islamic Sharia to govern the nation -- a harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

The stakeholder countries, including China, Iran, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, are pursuing the Taliban to form an inclusive government to unify the nation that has been riddled with civil strife, poverty, and hunger for several decades.

Qatar, UAE, and Turkey will be major partners in the operational management of Afghanistan, while China will be the development partner. The Taliban’s military partner -- a well-known secret -- is Pakistan.

Moments after the Taliban invasion of Kabul, they rechristened the country as an “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” which overrides the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan stated by the American-backed government.

The Taliban has already pressed the “factory reset” button to return to the medieval age. The Taliban’s commanders and leaders have proved that the HG Wells book The Time Machine is now a reality. Unfortunately, the Taliban’s time machine will push an entire nation back to the 7th century.

The Islamists have won the war against the giant Americans and Nato forces -- now they have to put their heads on the drawing board to govern Afghanistan. They also have to learn the best means to win public trust and confidence, which comes through ballots, not through bullets.

The crucial issue that lies ahead for the Taliban is way forward strategies in recovery from civil war, cash crunch, hunger, severe drought, and of course, poverty. The Taliban leaders have proven their ability in public diplomacy and handling the international media efficiently.

The mullahs have taken charge of a nation that relies heavily on international aid; amidst a cash crunch, that could spell disaster for the finance of the government. On the other hand, the local currency is losing value, while foreign reserves are held abroad and currently frozen.

The immediate challenge the Taliban will face is reviving the economy. Western nations are waiting to twist the arms of cleric leaders sitting in Kabul and Kandahar. The Taliban need to work out how to pay government employees and keep running crucial utility services and infrastructures such as water, power, and communications.

There is widespread suspicion among Afghans about how much the Taliban has really changed since the 1990s -- especially among religious minorities and sects like Hazara, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians, not to speak of the future of the LGBTQ community.

Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations in the world. After the Taliban were toppled in 2001, huge amounts of foreign aid flowed into the country. International assistance was more than 40% of the Afghan GDP in 2020. Most of it is now suspended, with no guarantees about the rest.

The other challenge is the critical shortage of skilled Afghans, including bureaucrats, bankers, doctors, engineers, professors, and university graduates, all terrified of life under the Islamists.

The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian crisis, with food stocks running low because of disruptions caused by conflict. With winter approaching and the drought still ongoing, the political scenario will dent the credibility of the Taliban among Afghans who have suffered pain, and agony in the civil war.

An Egyptian-French political scientist, Samir Amin, who died at the age of 86 three years ago, aptly said: “Never have the armies of the North (the West) brought peace, prosperity, or democracy to the peoples of the South (Asia, Africa, or Latin America).”

First published in the Dhaka Tribune, 7 September 2021

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad

Thursday, September 02, 2021

As Kabul Burns, Need To Talk About Pakistan

Taliban fighters patrols the streets of Kabul


It was certain that the suicide bombings at the Kabul airport during the crucial evacuation of tens of thousands of stranded foreign nationals and NATO troops, was an act of the Islamic State’s “Khorasan Province” (IS-KP), the branch of the organisation in Afghanistan and Pakistan that was officially recognised by Islamic State (ISIS) “Centre” in 2015.

The IS-KP was conspicuously quiet since the fall of Kabul, and it could be understood why.

The distinction between IS-KP and Taliban is well understood by several security experts. IS-KP is a non-state actor and the Taliban is an extension of deep state Pakistan. IS-KP is backed by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which also promised to establish Islamic Khilafat.

After 20 years, the Taliban re-entered Kabul. This time driving Humvees and riding tanks fluttering their white flag with signs “Shahada” in Arabic. The gun-trotting foot soldiers captured Afghanistan without a firefight, along with the Taliban were the Haqqani Network — is just the latest iteration of Pakistan’s jihad project in Afghanistan, since 1974.

Pakistan’s dreaded spy agency ISI has recruited, trained, armed, funded, and often led the Islamist militants in Afghanistan to create a colonial dependency because the ISI believes it is in a “civilizational” war with India.

Pakistan military hawks in Rawalpindi’s conspiracy theory insist that if India wins the heart of the Taliban for the completion of the mega infrastructure projects then India will “encircle” Pakistan.

Therefore, Rawalpindi hawks want to be the first to manipulate the controls of Afghanistan.

Twenty-five years ago, Rawalpindi began recruiting, training and arming the Pashtun tribesman to form the Taliban militia, with the knowledge of Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Major General Naseerullah Khan Babar, a retired officer of Pakistan Army and also the Interior Minister in Benazir’s cabinet admitted to a Pakistan journalist Hamid Mir of GEO TV that their government handed doles and weapons to many famous Afghan rebels like Ahmad Shah Masood, Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in 1975 as boss of infamous border guards, the Frontier Corps on the directives of then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, father of Benazir Bhutto.

Pakistan provided weapons and training to the Afghan Mujahideen in 1975 because the Afghan government led by Sardar Daud was allegedly sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan in collaboration with India.

Many know that Pakistan recruited ethnic Pashtuns from Quranic schools (Madrassahs) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, formerly North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and was known as Taliban.

Pakistan undertook responsibility on behalf of the Americans to provide protection and security of the multi-billion dollar Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline (TAPI) by American energy giant Unocal.

The Taliban was deployed as “pipeline police” and the Americans paid up the militia for guarding the pipeline.

Zalmay Khalilzad, who signed the Doha agreement with Mullah Baradar in 2020, arranged a visit of Taliban leaders to Unocal offices in the US in 1997.

According to Hamid Mir, many people say that the Taliban of today are different from the Taliban of 2001. “I think they are still loyal to their old ideology, but they have learned some new tactics in the last two decades.”

The political office of the Taliban working out of Qatar does not have independent decision-making authority. Decision-making powers lie with “Rahbri Shoora” or grand consultative council and most of its members were part of the resistance inside Afghanistan.

The Supreme Leader of the Taliban, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, is the ultimate authority on religious, political and military affairs. He makes decisions in consultation with his three deputies.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a founding member of the Taliban, looks after political affairs; Mullah Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, is head of military affairs and also looks after southern parts of Afghanistan. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the elder son of famous Afghan guerrilla commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, looks after eastern parts of Afghanistan. Yaqoob and Sirajuddin are responsible for appointing provincial and district governors.

Taliban’s after the fall of Kabul announced to form a consensus unitary government in Kabul. The Taliban are very much flexible on the inclusion of all ethnic minorities, women and even non-Muslims in a new government, but have strong reservations on “western democracy”.

Nevertheless, fighting a superpower was not difficult for them. One generation defeated the Soviet Union, and another generation defeated the Americans but running a country is quite difficult.

Indeed, the Taliban can’t afford isolation and that’s why they need to address the concerns of all those countries that fear that the territory of Afghanistan will be used for terrorist activities against them.

In the last two decades, the Taliban learned to handle diplomats and media. Now they need to learn public diplomacy and the best way to win public trust comes through the ballot, not through bullets.

First published in The News Times, 2 September 2, 2021

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <>; Twitter @saleemsamad