Mullah Mohammed Omar
Puritan Reform Leader
Mullah Omar was the secretive leader of the Taliban, the Islamic puritan militia that nearly conquered Afghanistan. An Islamic studies teacher from a poor rural area near Kandahar, he was propelled to leadership by accident and was simply not equipped to make a success of it. His movement was savage, ignorant, and chose its friends unwisely, but Omar was not a terrorist.
By 1992, 20 years of civil war had replaced many of the old Khan families with warlords who abused the peasantry. When Mullah Omar heard about one of these cases, a local warlord who had kidnapped children for sex, he was moved to action. He gathered a troop of old mujahideen buddies and Islamic students, attacked the warlord’s compound, freed the children, and hanged the warlord up high for all to see. This kind of celebratory lynching would become a Taliban signature.
The Pakistani intelligence service decided to back the new militia because they had integrity and popular support. Saudi money and pickup trucks, weapons from Pakistan, and thousands of fanatic teenage students from Islamic schools fueled a clumsy and high-casualty conquest of 90% of Afghanistan. The Taliban overcame powerful militias and famous commanders. Ismail Khan, Hekmatyar, and General Dostum were all defeated and driven out of the country. By 2001, they held all four major cities and only the unconquerable Masud in his Panjishir fortress held them off.
On the edge of victory, Omar’s ignorance betrayed him. He enacted foolish laws based on the primitive Pashtun tribal code. No kites, no music, all men must have bushy beards, no photos or drawings of people, and no sorcery. Worldwide, even social conservatives were horrified by punitive laws that made prisoners out of Afghan women. He had Najibullah dragged out of the UN compound in Kabul, his body mutilated, shot, and hung in the street.
He made war on the Hazara and murdered Iranian diplomats because they were the wrong kind of Muslims. His men sacked Mazar-e-Sharif, previously unscathed by the war. Finally he allowed his guest, Osama, to attack the most powerful nation on earth, murder thousands of its people, and invite the counter-strike that drove him back to the hills.
Mullah Omar now hides amongst his people, depressed and struggling to support four wives.