U.S. officials say they have conclusive evidence that Osama bin Laden was behind the deadly terror attacks against the United States two weeks ago. The Taleban movement, which rules Afghanistan, is sheltering Mr. bin Laden and is defying international demands to give him up.
In his address to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress last Thursday, President George W. Bush said the United States would use military force against the Taleban unless it hands over Osama bin Laden and other terrorists in Afghanistan. He added they must also shut down their terrorist training camps.
"The United States respects the people of Afghanistan," Mr. Bush said. "After all, we are currently its largest source of humanitarian aid. But we condemn the Taleban regime. It is not only repressing its own people, it is threatening people everywhere by sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists. By aiding and abetting murder, the Taleban regime is committing murder."
In an exclusive interview with VOA, Taleban Leader Mullah Omar said Osama bin Laden would not be surrendered and the Taleban is prepared for war.
"This is not just an issue of Osama bin Laden. This is an issue of Islam, Islam throughout the world. Islam's prestige is at stake; so is Afghan tradition. Whether Afghans uphold their tradition and protect their honor is another issue," he said.
Mullah Omar said Afghanistan is ready to face a U.S. attack. If the Taleban had feared an attack, he added, it would have given up Osama bin Laden when the United States struck us earlier.
The Taleban leader sought to explain his decision by saying he is pondering two promises. One is the promise of God; the other is that of Bush. God, he said, promises the Taleban will be protected anywhere on earth if its members stay true to their religion. Bush, he said, promises to find us no matter where we hide. We will see, said the mullah, whose promise is fulfilled.
Mullah Omar said there is no question the United States is more powerful than Afghanistan, but success does not lie in power alone. "In terms of worldly affairs, America is very strong," he said. "[But] even if it were twice as strong, or twice that, it would not be strong enough to defeat us. We are confident that no one can harm us if God is with us. And if God is not with us, there is no need for anyone else. Someone right here can shoot us and kill us."
Mullah Omar said America has taken Muslim countries hostage by exercising its power over them. In the process, it has undermined Islam. "I mean that America controls the governments of the Islamic countries. America keeps after them until they do its bidding," said the mullah. "But these governments are very distant from their own people. The people ask to follow Islam, but the governments do not listen. The people are powerless against their governments because they are in the grip of the United States."
Mullah Omar concluded that America brought on the evil that is assailing it. America must change its policies or the evil will endure.
That is a very special view of Islam, says John Esposito, Director of the Center of Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. "From Muslim governments to religious leaders and many leaders of major Islamic movements across the world, as well as most mainstream Muslims, we see all of these distancing themselves from the Taleban's interpretation of Islam on a number of issues over the years and certainly with regard to Osama bin Laden," he said.
Mr. Esposito says Islam does not justify Mullah Omar's call for violence or jihad against the United States or anybody else. There are other problems with his vision of Islam.
He went on to say, "As many Muslim scholars and others have pointed out, the Taleban's interpretation, whether it has to do with their support of radical groups or their policies with regard to women and other actions, are not in conformity with mainstream Muslim interpretations around the world."
The Bush administration also does not share Mullah Omar's interpretation of Islam and is considering whether the Taleban should be removed from power.
That clearly is the goal of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of Islamic groups that has been fighting the Taleban in northern Afghanistan. An Alliance spokesman, Abdullah Abdullah, says the Alliance has been in the forefront of the struggle against terrorism. Its leader, Ahmad Shah Masoud, was recently assassinated, presumably by agents of the Taleban.
"There is no question of relying or not relying on us," said Mr. Abdullah. "It is the Taleban which has provided this opportunity for the terrorist network in Afghanistan not only to be able to terrorize our nation, but also to commit criminal acts against people all over the world."
The Northern Alliance has pledged to help the United States in its battle against terrorism. In turn, the United States is aiding the Alliance.