“Bin Laden’s code name was ‘Binoculars’…” – a Taliban judge in his own words

Here’s a partial transcript of an interview with a Taliban judge conducted just after Osama bin Laden was killed. His nom de guerre is Khanjari, and he operates in Pana in Giro district in Ghazni province.

We sleep in the mountains at night, in the hills, in caves, and by day we’re moving from village to village. It’s a hard life. In our own country. Sometimes when we go home there are choppers in the sky. Sometimes we stay an hour and go. Sometimes we stay a night or two nights or three… high-ranking Talibs are lucky to see their families once every three months. We have comrades who haven’t seen their families for years because too many villagers know them, know who they are, know what their motorbike looks like. They can be easily identified and detected. So that’s why they stay away. I’ve seen my mother twice since last autumn. She came to my uncle’s house, which is as far from here to Maidan Shah, and I have a secret cellphone number, which she has. If I have network coverage she’ll call me and I’ll answer and we’ll meet. When I first joined the Taliban I was able to live with her and my father but now she knows that if go back home, I couldn’t live there, even if I surrendered, abandoned the war and my job. Each time we meet she cries. Sometimes she says forget about leaving your job. She knows even if I give up I can’t live there anymore.

What’s your job?

… I’m the judge for Pana district.

What’s your name?

It’s fake name.

I know. What’s your fake name?

Khanjari. (laughs) You want to get my full details? I’ll end up like Osama bin Laden.

Where did you grow up?

Paktika. (laughs) It’s a big campaign to kill bin Laden, me, others…

The reason why the TB are fighting is not because they lost their power. It’s because people in government or empowered by the government act with impunity. There is no justice. Public lands—which are supposed to belong to widows, orphans, everyone—have been seized by warlords like Sayyaf, who are selling them, doing what they want with them. No one can accuse Taliban commanders of seizing lands and property—everything we do is according to Sharia law. People like us. They’re sick of these cruel warlords, the government corruption, this injustice.

I think I’m about 30 years old. When I was about 13, I went to a madrassah in Paktika called Najmal Madaris, a big madrassah. Then I went to Ghazni—the Mastufiat Madrassah Darulam-e-Arabiye. Then I was in Sharana. I was the oldest son. My other brothers went to madrassah too but didn’t continue their studies as I did. When the Taliban came in the 1990s, I was a student as well as a fighter. After the fall of the regime I went to a madrassah in Quetta called Usmaniya for one and a half years. Then I came to Wana in Waziristan. There I studied as well as I could. In Miram Shah I got my military training.

Miram Shah is set in a canyon. Civilians are forbidden. There are lots of camps. We lived in caves, not houses. The caves are incredibly deep—200, 300 metres. There are rooms inside. There was no electricity back then but they have it now, in those same caves. It’s a very mountainous area. Very green, many trees.

I started out as a fighter and after a few years when my commanders had had time to see how I interacted with people, my training and everything, because I was well educated—then they said, you should become a judge. It’s true that my career is as a judge, but everyone should know how to fight. Maybe I’ll be dismissed. Then I’ll revert to fighting. This is jihad. The reason I came here is to tell the truth, to exchange ideas. It’s part of jihad. I’m proud to be here talking with you.

We saw in our studies, written in our books, that when infidels invade your country and trample on the rights of your people, the orphans, the women, if they mistreat you and kill Muslims, you have to stand against them. Jihad is more important to me than my education. If we acquire all this learning and then don’t do what we’re supposed to we may as well be donkeys carrying our learning on our backs. It’s useless if we don’t do what we’re supposed to.

Jihad means holy war. If a Muslim can’t wage his jihad in his own country, he can take it elsewhere. Bin Laden came from Saudi Arabia because his country has also been invaded by the British and Americans. He had no space there to fight the Brits and Americans. That’s why he came to Afghanistan. He participated in the jihad. Some people blame for the arrival of the Americans. They say he caused lots of problems for Afghanistan. I don’t agree. He did nothing wrong in Afghanistan—he didn’t steal any property. He was not our enemy. Whatever problems he had, he had with the U.S., not with us. He was a good Muslim, a well-respected mujahid. Death comes on the battlefield. You lose; you win; his death makes no difference. On the other side of the battlefield, when the Americans first invaded, the Taliban was very weak. Now you can see them in every district, every village, and they’re causing trouble for the infidels everywhere in Afghanistan.

Where were you when you heard of bin Laden’s death?

I was in the mountains in Ghazni. We mujahideen—our ambition is to be martyred. That’s the only goal. He was a very great mujahid because he had money, property, he could have led a luxurious life, he could have had women, liquor—but he chose a life of hardship and suffering in the mountains. He did this for Islam. That’s why he was a great mujahid. So after hearing I prayed to Allah and asked for paradise for Osama. That was his desire. So we’re not angry or upset about his death.

I told you before why we’re fighting. There’s no justice. The warlords have power. Karzai is weak, can’t do a thing. And this is our country but the rules and the constitution don’t conform with Sharia law. If a man steals, his hand should be cut off. If he kills, let him be killed. Because that’s what Sharia law dictates. So until the Americans leave, we’ll carry on fighting. After that, if Karzai introduces Sharia law we’ll lay down our guns. If he doesn’t, we’ll fight.

Peace is impossible in Afghanistan. The Americans don’t want peace. They always say they’re looking for bin Laden. They found him in Pakistan. Why have they not taken action against the Pakistani government? Because they and the Pakistanis are plotting against the poor Afghans. They say there are terrorists here… Mullah Baradar was in the same madrassah for 10 years in Karachi. When the Americans pressurized the Pakistanis they handed him over. When the Pakistanis feel at threat, they hand over some high-ranking Taliban. In fact this a trap for poor Afghans, they caused this civil war, America and Pakistan defame people as Taliban, they caused the civil war…

Every time someone high-ranking or well known gets killed we’re in touch with each other by contact radio. We have codes to avoid using people’s names. When we first heard it, we thought no, he’s not dead, now he’ll enter paradise. We congratulated him on his martyrdom. That was our reaction—we felt happy.

The codes are different. If we think we’ve been detected, we’ll change our codes. For example, the name I’ve given you, that’s my codename. And the code for bin Laden was “Binoculars”. We heard that “Binoculars were destroyed, had been broken.” But we still do not believe… there are maybe 12 bin Laden lookalikes, so maybe it’s one of them. Maybe fake, maybe genuine. The government soldiers have contact radios with a red button on them, which are much stronger than ours. Ours are simple. Once a friend and I spoke for a long time, maybe an hour. Then we said goodbye. And someone else suddenly shouted down the radio—‘Introduce yourselves, tell me who you are. You mother-fuckers, you terrorists, I didn’t understand a word of that and now you’ve said goodbye.’ Then we said, ‘Yeah, you son of Bush, we knew what we were talking about.’

We changed the code from Binocular to Akash, which is another code for bin Laden. We try to find names no one else will understand.

The night before we had an operation. We were in the mountains. I turned on my contact radio and heard the news. During the day we hide in the mountains, by night we close in on the highway, close to Ghazni City.

It was an American supply convoy. We’d received word that the convoy would pass that way during the night. We set an ambush but unfortunately it was daylight by the time it reached us.
We had come as support for other groups operating closer to the main road, but when the operation was cancelled we returned to our own operations area. It was quarter to nine when I heard this news.
There were more than 20 of us.

During military operations, if there’s a high-ranking commander I’ll fall under him. Otherwise I’ll lead. After the operation, if we seize anything—weapons, prisoners, vehicles, then that’s our responsibility, we distribute whatever we seized.

Among our group there were a number of Kharis—someone who can remember the holy Qu’ran. They took turns reciting the Qu’ran, then we prayed and that’s how it happened. We always pray after we hear someone’s been killed. We feel more upset for losing one foot-soldier than bin Laden. [rain outside]
His death had no impact on our morale… every member of my group is as brave as Osama. The only difference is he had more money, and that made him famous. My friends mean more to me than bin Laden. Any one of us would take a bullet for each other.

We’ve no idea if bin laden was involved in our movement or not. When we receive money we buy weapons … we don’t know if the money comes from bin Laden or someone else … we all know our lives are at risk. That’s why we have deputies. When a commander dies his deputy takes over. There’ll be no great gap because of bin Laden’s death.

What is the relationship between the Kandahar Taliban, Peshawar Taliban, Haqqani Network, al-Qaeda, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba…?

Among the Taliban we can ask for money, fighters from [across the country]. We can ask from the other provinces. For us, we’re all the same Emirate, we’re working for the same organization. Makes no difference if we’re Turkish, Arab, Pakistani… we’re all the same group. But there are groups controlled directly by Pakistan. Their mission is to plant pressure-plate IEDs, to attack aid workers, teachers, tribal leaders, to blow bridges and schools… the real Taliban, we have rules. We can’t place pressure-plate IEDs on roads and tracks because they might kill civilians, Afghans. We warn police not to accompany foreigners on their convoys because we’ll ambush them and they’ll get killed. Then, if they decide to come anyway, it’s not our responsibility. If we seize ANA or ANP we always tell our fighters to bring them to the court [in Pana]. Those who work for Mullah Omar, the real Taliban, they’re not killing civilians, destroying infrastructure, targeting teachers, burning schools. In fact the [people doing that] have been sent by Pakistan and America to defame the Taliban.

Pakistan’s hand is behind the Taliban. If you drive out the Americans, won’t you just bring in another set of foreigners?

We can’t pretend Pakistan is our friend. Pakistan is our enemy. But at the moment the infidels have forced us to stand with Pakistan. If we stand against Pakistan we’ll have no one to provide us with shelter and support. Right now, that’s our problem. We can’t fight Pakistan. If the Americans leave, then we’ll turn against Pakistan and seek our revenge. Since 2001, Pakistan has handed over our leaders to the Americans.

Between our district there’s one mountain then Paktika. Band-e-Sada? Do you know Band-e-Sada?
What do you think of the peace process?

As soon as the U.S. and Pakistan stop interfering peace will come. So many times we’ve surrounded ANA checkpoints but we didn’t attack. We understand them. They understand every other word we speak. None of them, not even Karzai himself, are bad people. The only bad people are the police, the Americans and the Pakistanis. We could have killed all the ANA convoys but we didn’t. We have no problem with them. We have a problem with the Americans, with Pakistan and with the police.

That’s why I said peace is impossible. Our main enemy is Pakistan. The Taliban have no choice unless they co-operate with Pakistan. As soon as the Americans leave you’ll see a huge war with Pakistan. We will destroy Pakistan. Every time Pakistan wants to buy credit with the Americans they hand over a Taliban commander. We will never forget this. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. We’re stuck…

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