“No matter how much money we pour in, how hard I try, these people will stand by Mullah Omar for his perceived justice,” one senior official in Kandahar recalled telling an American general.
“They say the Taliban cleaned up this place [Kandahar] from vice; from dog-fighting and bird-fighting and sodomy.”
The rise of Mullah Omar is shrouded in mystery, but legends about him are everywhere.
Never seen and barely heard by most Afghans during his five-year rule, Omar was little more than an ever-increasiing myth. The perpetuation of that myth today is considered by many a nagging failure of NATO and a uniting factor for the Taliban.
Another account claims he was visited in a dream by the Prophet Mohammed, who revealed that Mullah Omar should lead the country out of chaos.
“Mullah Omar was a nobody, except for some brief glory from the anti-Soviet days,” said Omar Sharifi, an Afghan anthropologist and historian who has been a close observer of the Taliban from their early days.
“He was the most obscure character on the Kandahar political map. The invoking of an old myth was what helped him establish legitimacy.”
“The impression I was left with is that he either does not understand the nuances of issues, or that he is too smart and does not want to give clues on his inner thoughts,” Pasarly recalled.
Poet Bari Jahani remembers visiting Mullah Omar office with a delegation of Afghan academics and activists in the early days of Taliban rule. The room where they gathered was dark and windowless.
“Everybody was giving him praises; that he has a good system, that he has brought security,” Jahani recalled. By his account, the mullah was “tall and handsome” and listened in quiet.
“When it was my turn, I said, ‘I am sorry, most of what I have [to say] is bitter.'”
Jahani said he informed Mullah Omar about the discontent he perceived from people on trips to Kabul and Jalalabad about the strict religious measures imposed upon the country.
“Mullah Omar stared and stared and stared. Eventually, when I gave him the chance to respond, he stood up, hugged me, said ‘God be with you’ and left. That was it.”