FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Taliban Prisoners on Bin Laden

by Patrick Cockburn The Independent In The Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan

If there is one place on earth where the news of the attacks in America was greeted with total enthusiasm it was among the 300 Taliban prisoners of war held in a jail in the depths of the Panjshir Valley.

“To my mind what happened in New York and Washington was very good work,” said Ali Akbar, an intense-looking man in his mid-20s with a black beard and a white skullcap, who joined the Taliban and was captured in fighting at the mouth of the Panjshir two years ago. “I believe all the enemies of Islam are thirsting to destroy Islam. It is the right of Muslims to defend themselves,” he said.

Ali Akbar, formerly a timber merchant in Pakistan, was sitting in a large cell crowded with some 50 Taliban prisoners in Barak prison. Aside from himself he said the other prisoners in the room were Afghans and all “were glad and happy” about the attacks. They had heard about them from guards because they were forbidden to have radios or newspapers.

Barak Prison is a strange and rather sinister place. Other parts of the Panjshir are beautiful with green fields and water meadows. At Barak, however, nothing grows and the sides of the valley are broken shale and grey rock. But the entrance to Barak prison must be unique among penitentiaries of the world. The only access is over a bridge across the fast-flowing Panjshir river. But the prison authorities, presumably as a security measure, have removed part of the corrugated metal, which is the surface of the bridge. This meant that we had to clamber for some yards hand over hand along the metal struts 20 feet above the torrents below.

Any interviews with the inmates, while the prison authorities are present, must carry a health warning for the reader. We were invited by the foreign ministry of the Northern Alliance, the opposition grouping that controls the Panjshir. We would not have got in without their permission. Obviously prisoners may be under pressure from the prison authorities to say or not say various things and are vulnerable to punishment if they do not comply. In this case there was no sign of the prisoners being intimidated. When I asked Ali Akbar if he and the others had been threatened he said: “We are not frightened of anybody. Our views come from the heart.” Probably the reason for the officially arranged visit was that the Northern Alliance wants the world to hear members of the Taliban endorse the attacks on America and express support for Osama bin Laden. They may also have wanted to show that the 19 Pakistanis among the prisoners play a leadership role.

The Pakistanis did seem to be the most ideologically committed and best educated. In the prison yard we met Salahudin Khalid, a cheerful man with thick pebble glasses who smiled easily. He said he was born in Baluchistan 27 years ago and had joined the Taliban through a Pakistani religious party called Harrakatul Mujahedin after studying Islamic law at the Punjab University in Lahore. He led a unit of 34 Taliban, which was surrounded by National Alliance forces in a battle in 1996.

He freely endorsed what Ali Akbar had said about the attacks in the US. “What they did against the World Trade Centre was very good,” he said. We asked about the dead civilians. He replied: “They were political persons. They were not boys or girls.” In fairness, with limited information from the outside world Salahudin Khalid probably knows little about the 6,000 dead in New York. But he gave the impression that, even if he knew every detail of the victims, his opinions would not have been much different.

The prison authorities at Barask do not differ much from those in other parts of the world. Amin Akrami, the commander of the prison, was wearing a military uniform and under it a T-shirt reading “Venice Beach California”. He said smoothly: “Every journalist that comes here says it is not like a prison but a holiday camp.”

More practically, he added that escape was very difficult because the Taliban prisoners only spoke Pushtu or Urdu and not the Dari language, akin to Persian, spoken in the Panjshir.

The Taliban prisoners were impressive in their commitment. They also seemed very tough. We asked Ali Akbar what would happen if America attacked Afghanistan.

He said: “Twenty years ago, the Russians came here. You know what happened. If America attacks I hope they and their opinions will be destroyed.” We said he was hardly in a position to fight. He replied: “Maybe I cannot fight but I can pray.” CP

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail