There may be journalists who can say that they interviewed Osama Bin Laden three times, but only one can say that he did so after the 9/11 attacks. Hamid Mir (Lahore, 1966) is living history of the last 20 years of open conflict between the United States and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He welcomes us at the National Press Club in Islamabad, a center for local journalists that has become his second home due to the censorship problems he suffers from with the Pakistani government.
The country’s star war journalist has more than six million followers on Twitter, has traveled to Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine or Chechnya and is one of the voices most requested by
the international media to find out their analysis on conflicts such as the Afghan one. Today is silenced by Islamabad authorities, a situation that this reporter suffers for the third time in his career, who has also suffered two assassination attempts. He denounces the lack of democracy in his country, criticizes the all-powerful Army and his work has led him to be part of the list of «
information heroes»Prepared by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) to highlight the work of professionals in countries where practicing journalism is very complicated.
I thought I would be in Kabul covering the arrival of the Emirate …
I am censored by the authorities of my country. I can’t appear on Geo News, the television channel I work for, or write for Pakistani newspapers. At the moment they do not prevent me from continuing with my international collaborations with The Washington Post or Deutsche Welle, nor from granting interviews, but I suffer the censorship of my Government and that is why I have not traveled.
What has happened?
That was recently asked the Minister of Information and he said he did not know anything. In May, young journalists were assaulted and beaten in Islamabad and I led a protest to denounce what happened, we threatened to give names if this happened again and those at the top did not like it at all. The next day they called me from the channel to tell me that I could not appear on the screen until further notice. This is not new to me, it already happened to me in the times of Pervez Musharraf, this is Pakistan.
You have spent a lifetime dedicated to following conflicts and the evolution of Islamist groups, has the rapid Taliban victory surprised you?
If you review the newspaper library you will see that in June I already wrote that the collapse of the Afghan government was imminent. Several colleagues from Kabul called me to tell me that the Taliban had entered President Ashraf Ghani’s village and raised the Emirate flag at his family’s home in Logar. I did that story and the press officer for the presidency called me to say it was a lie. I spoke to the Taliban spokesperson and he sent me a video of his fighters at Ghani’s home. The government lied to the end, but there were signs like that on the flag at Ghani’s house that allowed you to see that things were going very fast.
Can these 21st century Taliban be trusted?
They are the same as always, but their tactics have changed. They talk to the media, they give interviews to female journalists … twenty years ago I was arrested in Kabul for carrying a camera and I also ended up in the jail in Kandahar for not wearing a beard, it seems that now they are more tolerant, but they will never, never allow a system democratic success in Afghanistan.
The formation of a government in the Emirate is delayed, do you think there are internal problems between the Taliban and the Haqqani Network?
There are no internal problems, the name ‘Red Haqqani’ is a label created by the media, the Taliban movement is one and they are united. I think they hope to quell the resistance in the Panjshir to make that government public. Only the announcement is missing because everything is already decided. There will be representatives of the main ethnic groups, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Pashtuns, Baluchis … and even some women have options to enter, but I do not see people from the previous government among the top positions.
You interviewed Osama Bin Laden three times, which Islamist leader would you like to interview now?
Interviewing Taliban leaders is no longer difficult, but it is difficult to access the leadership of Al Qaida, a group that is still present in at least 15 provinces in Afghanistan, according to a recent UN security report.
How did you get in touch with Bin Laden?
It was they who looked for me. The first time, in 1997, I didn’t even know who Osama Bin Laden was. I didn’t stop attacking the Taliban for their ties to the United States and Pakistan until one day they told me they were hosting the person most wanted by Washington. They took me to Tora Bora and there I saw Bin Laden for the first time. It was an intense interview, so he was not a well-known figure, but he suggested the possibility of a great regional alliance between the Taliban, Iran, China and Pakistan, something unthinkable at that time. A year later we met again, this time he called me because he wanted to criticize the presence of US bases in the region and ask for unity for the liberation of Palestine.
And then 9/11 came and shortly after the attack he called you again, what did he transmit?
Larry King called me first and I spoke on CNN. I was very tough on AQ’s strategy. I finished the interview and the phone rang. It was Bin Laden’s people and they asked me for a meeting to explain their point of view. Seven days after 9/11 we were face to face. It was a very dangerous encounter because the bombings of the United States were constant in the area. He told me: “We have caught the United States and now we want them to come to Afghanistan to give them a great defeat.” He had a great reading of the situation, he was correct in predicting the debacle of the United States and the new game of alliances. The alliance of the ’emirate’ with China, Iran and Pakistan is a design of Osama Bin Laden. It is not the Taliban who rule Afghanistan, it is the ghost of Bin Laden.
Osama wanted the United States in Afghanistan, but he went to Pakistan and was assassinated here. Did you know anything about this border crossing?
The border is very porous, it is extremely easy to cross from one country to another through the mountains. He knew that he was constantly moving, from side to side. If you want we can cross right now and nobody finds out.
In addition to Al Qaida, the Islamic State (IS) is also present in Afghanistan, is it an important actor?
IS is a direct consequence of the US invasion of Iraq and the Taliban have benefited from their expansion into this area. Thanks to the threat of ISIS, the Taliban have forged ties with Iran and China. The fear of the IS makes these countries support the Taliban so that they can stop them. Osama’s words come true, the Taliban recapture Kabul and allied with Iran and China.
In a week it will be 20 years since 9/11, what balance do you make?
I think it is important to stand up to terrorism, but it is clear that the United States has failed with its strategy and is no longer a world super power. The war on terror has generated more terror. They assassinated Bin Laden, but Al Qaeda is still operational, ISIS has emerged and they have run out of Afghanistan, as if it were an army of a weak African country, they are no longer a super power. The world is more insecure today than before the war on terror began.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism