“It’s bullshit. Complete bullshit.” This is how Peter Bergen sums up the moderation speech adopted by the Taliban after taking over Kabul and reassuming power. Bergen was the first American journalist to interview Osama bin Laden, in 1997, in Afghanistan. He was also the first to gain access to the 470,000 files recovered in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where the al-Qaeda leader was killed, including those described by the CIA as “Bin Laden’s diary.” In them, the terrorist exposed his views on phenomena such as the Arab Spring.
With 30 years of experience covering the Middle East and nine books on terrorism, the latest of which The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden, recently released in the US, Bergen says bin Laden would be “over the moon”. a poor translation) with the Taliban’s victory. Below are the main excerpts from the interview with Estadão.
What does the Taliban’s retake of Afghanistan represent after 20 years of US presence in the country?
It was a defeat for American foreign policy and interventionist policy. Afghanistan has been a multi-ethnic and ungovernable patchwork for centuries. The American mistake for 20 years was to believe that it could apply a Western concept of nation to a country organized for centuries into tribes and clans. But at the same time, it could have worked. Think of South Korea. When the Korean War ended, there were more than 25,000 American soldiers there. South Korea is not Afghanistan, but South Korea was one of the poorest countries at the end of the war in 1953. And now it is one of the richest. Under the umbrella of American national security, a number of countries have done very well, whether it’s South Korea, Germany or Japan. A lot of the things the US did in Afghanistan went right. Today girls can go to school. Women can have jobs. There is a healthy independent media, with literally hundreds of TV and radio stations in Afghanistan. Infant mortality rates have plummeted. There is a whole new generation of Afghans – it is one of the youngest countries in the world, 70% of the population is under 25 years old. There is no nostalgia among this group, really, for returning to the Taliban. My concern is that there will be a very brutal civil war that will make the previous war that has been raging in Afghanistan since 9/11 look like a cricket match.
Why do you fear civil war?
Well, what we are seeing is a new chapter in the civil war that has raged in Afghanistan since before the Soviet invasion and the outbreak of civil war in 1978. Obviously, the Taliban have now won what appears to be a total victory. What worries me is that the new Taliban cabinet is very similar to the old Taliban. There was a lot of speculation about a new Taliban government being inclusive, modernized, a new and improved Taliban. I don’t see any evidence of this.
Don’t you believe in the Taliban’s moderation speech?
Of course not, it’s complete bullshit. Talk to sleep ox, to summarize what I think. Let’s speak clearly: a group that suffocates minorities, that doesn’t believe that men and women can share the same space, that believes that women and minorities are inferior, that believes that the best way to fight crime is to cut off your hand and throw acid in people’s faces, can never adopt a practice of moderation. They have a distorted and radical view of Islam, and that hasn’t changed.
Would bin Laden be happy with the American downfall in Afghanistan?
He would be overjoyed, absolutely elated. He would see the announcement of the new Taliban government as a complete victory. See the presence of Sirajuddin Haqqani as Interior Minister. He is part of the Haqqani network, linked to al-Qaeda, is the brother and nephew of Khalil Haqqani, who is on the US and United Nations terrorist lists. The US offers a $5 million reward for information leading to their capture. And Khalil was speaking exultantly at a mosque in Kabul and was tasked by the Taliban with looking after the capital’s security. Sirajuddin Haqqani was the architect of this very quick military victory, and that is why he was appointed Minister of the Interior. It’s like you put the mob boss to run the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI at the same time. So we are in the unusual situation where an al-Qaeda member is, for the first time in history, the top cabinet member in a nation-state.
And there are other groups operating in Afghanistan, no?
Yes. The focus is broader than just al-Qaeda. The US military has said many times in the past that there are 20 foreign terrorist organizations present in Afghanistan. There’s a kind of terrorist alphabet soup: Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is a Pakistani group focused on attacks on India, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which focuses on Uzbekistan, and a bunch of other groups. Everyone will be energized by this. They thrived when the Taliban were last in power. And I think they will prosper again
You had access to bin Laden’s documents at your home in Abottabbad, where he was killed. How did Bin Laden see the state of global jihad?
James Clapper, who was the US intelligence director, said the things bin Laden was writing in his final days reminded him of the illusions Hitler had had before the fall of Berlin. He believed that the jihadists were rising to defend the Muslim world, that al-Qaeda would kill Barack Obama and David Petraeus. It was completely hallucinated. The information is from the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo.