By Mujeeb Ahmad, NBC News
KARARGAH, Afghanistan – Ever since he joined the Taliban movement in Kandahar in 1994, Mullah Aminullah has been a close aide of the movement’s supreme leader, Mullah Omar.
Mujeeb Ahmad/ NBC News
Mullah Aminullah, a close aide to the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Omar, during a recent interview.
Aminullah’s loyalty to Omar is unshakeable; the two men are from the same tribe and grew up together in Uruzgan province in Afghanistan. When he first joined the Taliban, he was Omar’s personal cook but as he gained the trust of the organization’s senior leaders was made a commander.
After the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban in 2001, scattering its leadership, Aminullah and Omar remained in touch with each other – that is, as much as Omar keeps contact with anyone.
Just a few days after word spread in the Western media about high-level peace talks between the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and influential members of the Taliban, I tried to get word to Omar’s deputy, Mullah Zakir Qayum, to find out what was really going on.
That request was quickly refused. A short time later, Aminullah sent word that he would see me and make arrangements to escort me to Karargah, a tiny village of mud huts on the way to Kandahar in Afghanistan.
With my Pakistani identity card, I was able to enter Afghanistan from the Chaman border crossing in Balouchistan Province. All I needed to say, to both the Pakistani and Afghan border guards, was that I was shopping for a particular car, an old Japanese model, and a friend in Afghanistan knew where I could buy one. After a quick body search, I crossed over the Pakistan border and was on my way to the Afghan town of Spinboldak where three men on motorbikes were waiting for me.
I was asked to hand over my cell phones and then helped on to a motorbike and blindfolded for what seemed like more than an hour’s journey to finally meet Aminullah.
‘We are winning, why should we negotiate’
More than six feet tall and slender, Aminullah is around 45 years old, which makes him approximately two years younger than Omar. He is an imposing figure who never takes off his dark glasses and stroked his thick black beard as we chatted and drank tea. His bravado was evident and the 250 fighters under his command seemed to be in awe of him.
“All of these reports of peace talks are nonsense,” Aminullah said. “This is just propaganda by the U.S. and its NATO allies to hide their defeat on the battlefield. We are winning, why should we negotiate.”
“So in your opinion, what is the current status of the U.S. and NATO on the battlefield,” I asked.
“Let me ask you that question,” Aminullah shot back. “Which U.S. or NATO operation has been successful? Has the operation in Helmand been a success?”
Aminullah was quick to answer his own questions.
“British forces cannot come out of their bunkers. What about the U.S. operation in Marjah? That certainly failed. And whatever small gains they say they are making in Kandahar will fail too.”
Is Mullah Omar really in charge?
I was curious to know how Mullah Omar was still able to control the Taliban and direct the war in Afghanistan while being a recluse; or was Omar’s importance simply more fabrication than fact? Aminullah was patient and considered his response.
“There is no question that Mullah Omar is our supreme leader and commander,” Aminullah said in a low voice. "Those who try and downplay his role are either ignorant or misguided.”
Mullah Aminullah, a Taliban leader, sits with NBC News' reporter Mujeeb Ahmad after a recent interview in Karargah, Afghanistan.
“He communicates with us through messengers on a weekly basis – sometimes there are 10 different messengers before the message reaches the intended person. And the messengers are never the same; each communication will have different men to deliver Omar’s orders,” he stressed.
I asked Aminullah if he knew where Mullah Omar was or for that matter where Osama Bin Laden might be.
“No one knows where Osama is,” Aminullah laughed. “The last time I saw Mullah Omar was in August 2009 in Nimroz Province. It is more than one year now, so I am hoping he will send word that we can meet again somewhere soon." He paused and went on, "I am looking forward to that.”
‘Leave us alone’
“What would be the Taliban’s conditions to hold peace talks with the Karzai government?” I asked.
“Our position has never changed and the Americans, NATO and Karzai know it all too well. Before there can be any peace negotiations, all foreign forces have to leave our lands; only then can there be peace,” Aminullah said.
As I was preparing to leave, Aminullah grabbed me by the hand and said: “Look, the Americans call us terrorists; what terrorist act did we ever commit? They traveled 10,000 miles to us and forced us to wage jihad against the Russians, who were their enemies, and now they are waging a war against us. We are Afghans and Afghanistan is our country. All we want is for the Americans to leave us alone; only then will there be peace in Afghanistan.”
NBC News’ Carol Grisanti in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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