by Zia Sarhadi (World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 17, Safar, 1439)
The US has demanded that the Taliban in Afghanistan hand the Saudi mujahid Osama bin Laden over to them fro trial by November 14, or face international sanctions. The warning was delivered through the UN security council when a US-sponsored resolution was passed unanimously on October 15. Michael Sheehan, an American anti-terrorism expert, met Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, the Taliban representative in New York, on October 18 to insist on compliance with the demand and reiterate the threat of punitive sanctions.
After the UN vote, the Taliban leader, Mulla Mohammed Omar was quoted by the Afghan Islamic Press the following day as saying: “Osama’s is an Islamic issue and the only way to resolve it is through a unanimous decision by the ulama of three Islamic countries”. Speaking at his headquarters in Qandahar, he also said that two of the three should be Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. A spokesman for Mulla Omar called the resolution unjust, saying that “this cruel decision has been taken under the US pressure.”
“Unless we have a decision on bin Laden according to Islamic tenets, we cannot hand him over to anyone,” the spokesman said when asked about the UN threat of sanctions. The US has been demanding bin Laden’s surrender for trial on charges that he plotted the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Africa. Afghanistan’s northern opposition alliance, fighting the Taliban for control of Afghanistan, expressed its support for the UN resolution on October 17.
The US has accused several individuals of the African bombings without providing any evidence. In Kenya and Tanzania, where the bombings occurred, scores of Muslim activists were arrested in the aftermath of the bombings. The same happened in neighbouring Uganda. Many of them were tortured before being released because there was no evidence against them.
On October 5, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, a Tanzanian citizen, was arrested in South Africa when he applied for political asylum. Then, without his asylum application being considered, he was flown out of South Africa to New York by American agents.
This was in clear violation of South African laws but the Pretoria regime buckled under US pressure and permitted the violation of Mohamed’s rights to go unquestioned. Under standard international extradition procedures, the courts of the country where the wanted person is being held should consider the evidence against him or her, and decide whether there is a case to answer. However, the US clearly regards itself as being above international law and legal processes. Under the circumstances, Khalfan Mohamed is unlikely to receive a fair trial in America, where Muslim activists are effectively assumed to be guilty once state prosecutors decide that they are suspects.
The US has named four other persons ï Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Fahad Mohammed Ally, Mustafa Mohammed Fadhil and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, all of whom are still at large ï as being involved in the embassy bombings. Osama bin Laden is accused of being their leader. Again, no evidence is adduced. Early this year, the Taliban demanded that the US provide proof for its allegations against Osama. Washington has provided none, preferring to proceed by threats of force thinly legitimised by international institutions. The threat of action against Afghanistan has to be taken seriously in view of the US’s record.
At least 30 people were killed on August 20 last year, shortly after the bombings of the US embassies, when the US launched cruise missile attacks at a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum and at a mujahideen camp in Khost, Afghanistan. (All the fatalities were in Khost.) Neither target had anything to do with the African bombings, despite US claims. The Taliban being international outlaws, the attack on Khost has never been examined.
However, the truth about the attack on the Al-Shifa factory in Khartoum quickly emerged. The US alleged that it was producing chemical weapons (which, incidentally, is not illegal). It also said that its owner, Salah Idris, had links to Osama bin Laden. Despite repeated requests by Khartoum for a UN inspection team to verify the allegations, the US blocked all such requests saying that it had “proof” that the factory was producing chemical weapons and that the world must take its word for it. Salah Idris, meanwhile, lodged a case against the US government in an American court. Last May, when the court demanded that Washington give reason why Idris’s accounts were frozen, the US government quietly unfroze the accounts. Unofficially, the US now admits that the attack on the factory was a “mistake.”
The US only makes mistakes; others commit acts of terror. The US had also made a mistake when its naval frigate, the Vincennes, fired two missiles at Iran’s civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf killing all 290 people aboard in July 1988. This ‘mistake’ was made as US forces were helping Saddam Hussain to survive Iranian attempts to overthrow him in the last stages of the Iraq-Iran war. A few days later, Iran reluctantly accepted a cease-fire, accepting that the west would not permit Saddam to be topples. For this mistake, the captain of the frigate, Will Rogers III, was given the US navy’s second highest medal for his “bravery.” Some observers believe that this award was actually for his accepting responsibility for the ‘error’ instead of telling the truth about the attack, whatever that may be.
Given the US’s propensity for making mistakes and its refusal to provide any evidence against Osama, there is reason to believe that he is the target of an aggressive propaganda campaign. The US has also been exerting pressure on Pakistani governments, both the ousted one and the one that has just taken over, to use its influence with the Taliban to get bin Laden removed from his hideout, which is thought to be in Jalalabad, close to Afghanistan’s eastern frontier. The US ambassador to Pakistan, William Milam, raised this issue in his first meeting with the new Pakistani chief executive, general Pervez Musharraf.
The Taliban deny Osama’s involvement in any terrorist acts saying he is living in a secret location with a special guard and is denied access to his satellite telephone and contact with the outside world. If and when they go into effect, the UN sanctions require countries to ban flights by planes owned, operated or leased by the Taliban, and to freeze bank accounts and property owned or controlled by the movement.
The Afghan airline, Ariana, flies regularly to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which has become its economic centre of gravity for a small but thriving trader elite in Kabul and other key cities. It also operates flights to India, from which it imports medicines and footwear, and occasionally flies to Saudi Arabia and to Germany carrying pilgrims and rugs for export. The sanctions themselves are likely to have little direct effect; but they signify the ease with which the US can manipulate international organizations, and are probably intended as a warning to the Taliban that the US has a free hand to act against it if necessary.
Muslimedia: November 1-15, 1999