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Context of 'December 24, 2001: Taliban Leaders Free, Living Openly in Luxury in Pakistan'

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William Casey.William Casey. [Source: CIA]Following an agreement between the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI to make more use of Arabs in the Soviet-Afghan War, recruitment of potential fighters increases significantly. The agreement was a result of CIA dissatisfaction at infighting between indigenous Afghan rebels (see 1985-1986). According to Australian journalist John Pilger, in this year: “CIA Director William Casey [gives] his backing to a plan put forward by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, to recruit people from around the world to join the Afghan jihad. More than 100,000 Islamic militants [are] trained in Pakistan between 1986 and 1992, in camps overseen by the CIA and [the British intelligence agency] MI6, with the [British special forces unit] SAS training future al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in bomb-making and other black arts. Their leaders [are] trained at a CIA camp in Virginia.” [Guardian, 9/20/2003] Eventually, around 35,000 Muslim radicals from 43 Islamic countries will fight with the Afghan mujaheddin. Tens of thousands more will study in the hundreds of new madrassas (Islamic schools) funded by the ISI and CIA in Pakistan. Their main logistical base is in the Pakistani city of Peshawar. [Washington Post, 7/19/1992; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001] Ironically, although many are trained, it seems only a small percentage actually take part fight in serious fighting in Afghanistan, so their impact on the war is small. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] Richard Murphy, assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian relations during the Reagan administration, will later say: “We did spawn a monster in Afghanistan. Once the Soviets were gone [the people trained and/or funded by the US] were looking around for other targets, and Osama bin Laden has settled on the United States as the source of all evil. Irony? Irony is all over the place.” [Associated Press, 8/23/1998] In the late 1980s, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, feeling the mujaheddin network has grown too strong, tells President George H. W. Bush, “You are creating a Frankenstein.” However, the warning goes unheeded. [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] By 1993, President Bhutto tells Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that Peshawar is under de facto control of the mujaheddin, and unsuccessfully asks for military help in reasserting Pakistani control over the city. Thousands of mujaheddin fighters return to their home countries after the war is over and engage in multiple acts of violence. One Western diplomat notes these thousands would never have been trained or united without US help, and says, “The consequences for all of us are astronomical.” [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996]

Entity Tags: Richard W. Murphy, John Pilger, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Benazir Bhutto, William Casey, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The Guardian reports that many in Afghanistan intelligence say former top Taliban officials are living openly in villas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At least four top leaders who had been caught have been simply released. Yet another leader, wanted by the US for harboring al-Qaeda operatives at his compound, is able to escape a very loose house arrest in mid-December. Two soldiers were checking on him once a day. One intelligence source claims to know the exact location of many, and says they could be rounded up within hours. A former Taliban minister now working with the Northern Alliance also claims: “Some are living in luxury in fine houses, they are not hiding in holes. They could be in jail by tonight if the political will existed.” The US claims it is working hard to find and catch these leaders. [New York Times, 12/20/2001; Guardian, 12/24/2001] However, it will later be revealed that the US is aware of these Taliban living in Pakistan but will not seriously press Pakistan about them until 2006 (see 2002-2006).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Mullah Obaidullah Akhund.
Mullah Obaidullah Akhund. [Source: Public domain]Seven former Taliban leaders surrender to the Northern Alliance near Kandahar, Afghanistan, but are released. Two are on a US list of twelve most wanted Taliban leaders: Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund and Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi. Akhund “is considered by American intelligence officials to have been one of the Taliban leaders closest to Mr. bin Laden.” The US military denies reports of their release, but officials of the new Afghan government confirm the account and are unrepentant about it. They claim they are following through on an announced policy to grant amnesty to any Taliban leaders who surrender. CNN reports, “Though US forces expressed interest in the men,… they accepted the Afghan decision to let them go, and have given no indication they are pursuing them…” This follows other accounts of Taliban leaders being released in December 2001 (see December 24, 2001). A senior Pakistani official will later note, “Unbelievably, not one [Taliban cabinet minister] was killed, arrested, or defected to opposition forces during the two-month-long, nonstop bombing.” It appears that the highest ranking Taliban leader to have been killed or captured is the deputy foreign minister, who was killed in a bombing raid. [Washington Post, 12/17/2001; New York Times, 12/20/2001; Washington Post, 1/10/2002; CNN, 1/10/2002] Mullah Obaidullah Akhund will later become one of the most important leaders of the continued Taliban resistance. In 2004, it will be reported that Pakistan is allowing him and other Taliban leaders to freely come and go through Pakistan (see August 18, 2005). [Boston Globe, 7/11/2004]

Entity Tags: Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, Mullah Nooruddin Turabi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mullah Dadullah Akhund.Mullah Dadullah Akhund. [Source: Associated Press]Afghan President Hamid Karzai travels to Islamabad, Pakistan, and meets with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf. Karzai hands Musharraf a list of Taliban leaders living in Quetta, Pakistan, and urges Musharraf to have them arrested. The list includes the names of senior Taliban leaders Mullah Omar, Mullah Dadullah Akhund, and Mullah Akhter Mohammed Usmani. All are believed to be in Quetta. The list is leaked to the press. The Pakistani government denounces Karzai and denies any Taliban leaders are in Pakistan. The US government declines to back the list, even though the US embassy in Kabul had helped make it. Journalist Ahmed Rashid will later explain: “The Americans were already deeply involved in Iraq and wanted no distractions such as a cat fight between the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan. [The US] was unwilling to push the Pakistanis, and the Afghans were angry that the Americans had allowed Karzai’s credibility to suffer.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 246]

Entity Tags: Mullah Dadullah Akhund, Hamid Karzai, Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, Mullah Omar, Pervez Musharraf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Knight Ridder reports, “Nearly four years after a US-led military intervention toppled them from power, the Taliban has re-emerged as a potent threat to stability in Afghanistan. Though it’s a far cry from the mass movement that overran most of the country in the 1990s, today’s Taliban is fighting a guerrilla war with new weapons, including portable anti-aircraft missiles, and equipment bought with cash sent through Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, according to Afghan and Western officials.… The Taliban is now a disparate assemblage of radical groups estimated to number several thousand, far fewer than when it was in power before November 2001. The fighters operate in small cells that occasionally come together for specific missions. They’re unable to hold territory or defeat coalition troops.… The Taliban insurgents have adopted some of the terrorist tactics that their Iraqi counterparts have used to stoke popular anger at the Iraqi government and the US military. They’ve stalled reconstruction and fomented sectarian tensions in a country that remains mired in poverty and corruption, illegal drugs and ethnic and political hatred.” Most of the original top leaders were never captured. Some who were briefly held and then released, such as former Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund (see Early January 2002), are part of the resurgence. Forty-four US soldiers have been killed in the last six months. Afghan and Western officials claim that the Taliban continues to be supported by Pakistan’s ISI. Pakistan “seeks a weak government in [Afghanistan] that it can influence.” It is claimed that the Taliban are allowed to maintain training camps and arms depots just across the border from Pakistan. [Knight Ridder, 8/18/2005]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

In 2003, Afghan President Hamid Karzai presented Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with a list of Taliban leaders living openly in Pakistan, but Musharraf took no action in response (see April 22, 2003). In February 2006, Karzai and Musharraf meet again, in Islamabad, Pakistan, and Karzai again gives Musharraf a list of Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Amrullah Saleh, head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, is also at the meeting, and will later say, “It was a target list—locations, training camps, telephone numbers, and everything.” Musharraf responds by giving Karzai a report of the Indian government funding rebels in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan through Afghanistan. Western intelligence officials say India is funding these rebels, but not through Afghanistan. Musharraf again takes no action against the Taliban leaders living in his country. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2006; Rashid, 2008, pp. 286]

Entity Tags: Hamid Karzai, Pervez Musharraf, Taliban, Amrullah Saleh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Christian Science Monitor reports: “Taliban leaders strut openly around Quetta, Pakistan, where they are provided with offices and government-issued weapons authorization cards; Pakistani army officers are detailed to Taliban training camps; and Pakistani border guards constantly wave self-proclaimed Taliban through checkpoints into Afghanistan.” A Monitor reporter who lives in Kandahar, Afghanistan, notes that the result is that people there “have reached an astonishing conclusion: The United States must be in league with the Taliban… In other words, in a stunning irony, much of this city, the Taliban’s former stronghold, is disgusted with the Americans not because of their Western culture, but because of their apparent complicity with Islamist extremists.” [Christian Science Monitor, 5/2/2006] CNN will similarly report in September 2006 that Taliban head Mullah Omar and most other top Taliban leaders are living in Quetta (see September 12, 2006).

Entity Tags: Christian Science Monitor, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Pakistani journalist Amir Mir tells CNN: “Pakistan is essentially for the Taliban. Almost their entire leadership of Taliban is hiding in Quetta.” Quetta is a Pakistani town close to the Afghan border. CNN further reports that “American intelligence officials say, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar is also living in Quetta.” Senior British government officials say they are angry Pakistan has not rounded up the Taliban leadership “who they say are planning and plotting and getting stronger from the safety of Pakistan.” [CNN, 9/12/2006] The Christian Science Monitor came to a similar conclusion in May 2006 (see May 2, 2006). Several months later, a captured Taliban spokesman will say that Omar is living in Quetta under the protection of the Pakistani ISI (see January 17, 2007).

Entity Tags: Mullah Omar, Taliban, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, NATO supreme commander General James L. Jones testifies that the Taliban headquarters is in Quetta, Pakistan. The Taliban presence there has been widely known in intelligence circles since at least 2003 (see April 22, 2003), but this marks the first time a major US figure publicly acknowledges the fact. However, the US still is not pressuring Pakistan very much over the issue. For instance, President Bush did not even bring up the issue when he hosted a dinner recently for Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. [International Herald Tribune, 10/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Hamid Karzai, George W. Bush, Taliban, James L. Jones, Pervez Musharraf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Muhammad Hanif confessing on video.Muhammad Hanif confessing on video. [Source: BBC]A captured Taliban spokesman claims that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is living in Pakistan under the protection of the ISI. Muhammad Hanif, a.k.a. Abdul Haq Haji Gulroz, one of two Taliban spokesmen, was recently captured by the Afghan government. He is seen on video saying to his captors, “[Omar] lives in Quetta [a Pakistan border town]. He is protected by the ISI.” He further claims that the ISI funds and equips Taliban suicide bombings and former ISI Director Hamid Gul supports and funds the insurgency. The Pakistani government denies the allegations and claims Omar has not been seen in Pakistan. [BBC, 1/17/2007; Daily Telegraph, 1/19/2007]

Entity Tags: Muhammad Hanif, Hamid Gul, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The Bush administration is opposed to a bill in Congress that would link military aid for Pakistan to tackling the Taliban. The bill, which has passed the House of Representatives, calls for an end to military assistance to Pakistan unless it stops the Taliban from operating out of Pakistan. Administration officials say the bill would undermine the fostering of a closer relationship with Pakistan. [Reuters, 2/1/2007]

Entity Tags: Pakistan, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In early March 2007, the Pakistani government announces that a top Taliban official has been captured. Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the Taliban’s former defense minister, was supposedly captured on February 26, 2007, the same day that Vice President Cheney visited Pakistan, which the Associated Press says “has been under growing international pressure to crack down on Taliban militants believed to seek sanctuary on its soil.” If so, he would be the most senior Taliban leader ever captured since 9/11. However, the Swiss weekly SonntagsBlick claims that one of its reporters interviewed him in Quetta, Pakistan on February 28, just two days after his supposed capture. SonntagsBlick writes, “The world press reported: top-Taliban imprisoned. At the same time he was sitting with a SonntagsBlick reporter having coffee.” [Associated Press, 3/2/2007; Associated Press, 3/11/2007] He was also reportedly captured by the Northern Alliance in early 2002 and then released with US approval (see Early January 2002).

Entity Tags: Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington (see May 1998), recommends the Obama administration emulate earlier administrations and work with insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, a key Pakistan-based Taliban ally who has had ties to the ISI, CIA, and Osama bin Laden (see Early October 2001). Haqqani is “someone who could be reached out to… to negotiate and bring [the Taliban] into the fold,” Prince Turki tells a group of government and business leaders and journalists over a dinner in Washington organized by blogger Steve Clemons. Haqqani is thought to be behind recent suicide attacks in Afghanistan, and is suspected to have been behind the attempted assassination of Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President Gerald Ford and President George H. W. Bush, also urges the US to negotiate with some members of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan in remarks following Prince Turki’s. [Washington Times, 4/27/2009]

Entity Tags: Jalaluddin Haqqani, Turki al-Faisal, Taliban, Obama administration, Brent Scowcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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