Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The Osama Issue by Abdul Salam Zaeef
As Ambassador to Pakistan I had a meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's special envoy Francesc Vendrell in his office in Islamabad. He talked enthusiastically about handing over Osama bin Laden to America, saying that the Taliban should respect the decision of the UN. It was not the the UN's decision to discuss handing someone over to America, and it was also not their right, but they were being pressured by America. I told him I was not in a position to decide about Osama bin Laden. Nevertheless, I was curious and asked him why the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan should hand him over to America. He was a wanted man in America; but Afghanistan had made no legal agreement with America that would oblige them to hand over individuals. Furthermore, how could he, representing the supposedly impartial UN, support a request without a legal basis? He did not answer my question but said, "Listen! The decision has been taken, and if you don't hand him over soon, America will take him by force."
I didn't doubt that America was preparing for war and that the UN was cooperating. Only when and how she would start her assault was unclear. "America might go to war", I said, "but she will never reach her objectives. A war will ruin her administration and ours, blood will flow, hostility will rise and Afghanistan will fall into war with itself and the world once again." But they never listened to me.
Contrary to all our efforts, the situation kept deteriorating with each passing day. Sanctions and other impositions were toughened and increased, relations turned from bad to worse and one event after another took place that spoiled each previous effort. This was the downward slope heading to the events of 11 September 2001, when the world was turned upside down. Our most troubled relationship was with the Americans, with whom we used to have frequent meetings. Their demands caused many problems. Above all America insisted that Afghanistan hand over Osama bin Laden or drive him from its territory to a country that would be willing to do so.
The Taliban, however, argued for a trial- to preserve the dignity of Oama bin Laden. At one point I discussed the issue with the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan- Kabir Mohabat- at his office late in the evening, long after office hours. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan had come up with three possible solutions that they deemed satisfactory for both sides, and I explained all three to him in great detail that night:
Firstly, if America blames Osama bin Laden for the bombings in Nairobi and Tanzania, and can present evidence for its claim, it should present all its findings to the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will legally summon Osama bin Laden to court. If there is proof, he will be found guilty and will be punished according to the Islamic shari'a law.
Secondly, if America finds the first suggestion unpalatable because it does not recognize the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan or because it does not believe in the independent, unbiased and impartial stance of the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, the Emirate suggests that a new court be formed, chaired by the Attorney Generals of three Islamic countries, proceedings of which would be held in a fourth Islamic country. America would be able to present its evidence in this court and make its case against Osama bin Laden. Afghanistan will be a partner in this court and will ensure that Osama is present at the trial and stands to answer any questions and defend himself against any allegations. If Osama is unable to defend himself and is found guilty, he will be punished for his criminal deeds.
Thirdly, if America does not trust a court set up by three Islamic countries and does not accept or recognize the Supreme Court of Afghanistan, we can offer to curb any and all activities of Osama. He will be stripped of all communications equipment so that his outreach will be limited to his immediate refugee life here in Afghanistan, and the Emirate will ensure that he does not use its territory for any activity directed against another country.
America rejected all three of our proposals and insisted that the Emirate hand over Osama bin Laden unconditionally, saying that he would be tried in a fair and impartial court in the U.S. and be punished if found guilty. They wouldn't even consider a joint court comprising America and some Islamic countries, nor the UN court at the Hague that would at least have had some measure of independence and impartiality, and would have been an option that would have allowed both parties to keep face.
The Islamic Emirate had two principle objections to America's demand. First, if every country were to hand over any person deemed criminal by America, then America would de facto control the world. This would threaten the independence and sovereignty of all countries. Secondly, America's demands and its rejection of all the suggestions of the Emirate implied that there is no justice in the Islamic world, and with it no legal authority of Islam to implement justice and law among people. This stands in direct opposition to Islam itself and its system to protect the rights of the people and to punish criminals.
Christina Rocca, the Secretary of State for South Asian affairs, passed through Islamabad on tour and requested a visit. We met on 2 August 2001 at the American Embassy in Islamabad. She was concerned only with Osama. During our visit she flouted every diplomatic principle, and every single word she uttered was a threat, hidden or open. Our meeting was a battle of harsh rhetoric.
I held four meetings with the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan over the issue of Osama bin Laden, each without result. The last time I saw him was when he came to say goodbye. He told me he appreciated the good diplomatic relationship that we had cultivated and expressed his concern about the future and about forthcoming events that were likely to spell disaster. He believed that Osama remained a threat and would continue his fight against America. It was time to find a solution or the problem will get out of hand. The issue continued to be discussed in countless private parties and gatherings; America would drop all its other demands and formally recognize the Emirate if Osama was handed over.
When the attacks of 11 September 2001 took place on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, everything came to a standstill and the world was flipped on its back. The negotiation process was derailed by the events and all of us witnessed what happened next.