The Pakistani intelligence agent who trained Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, to fight has warned that Nato forces will never overpower their enemies in Afghanistan and should talk to them rather than sacrifice more lives.
“You can never win the war in Afghanistan,” said so-called “Colonel Imam”, who ran a training programme for the Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union’s occupation from 1979 to 1989, then helped to form the Taliban.
“I have worked with these people since the 1970s and I tell you they will never be defeated. Anyone who has come here has got stuck. The more you kill, the more they will expand.”
A tall, bearded figure, whose real name is Amir Sultan Tarar, he trained at Fort Bragg, the US army base where America’s special forces are stationed.
During the late 1970s and 1980s he controlled CIA-funded training camps for 95,000 Afghans and often accompanied his students on missions.
After the Soviet defeat and the collapse of communism, he was invited to the White House by the first President George Bush and was given a piece of the Berlin Wall with a brass plaque inscribed: “To the one who dealt the first blow.”
Today western intelligence agencies believe Imam is among a group of renegade officers from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) who continued to help the Taliban after Pakistan turned against them following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
United Nations officials and Afghanistan’s intelligence service have reported sightings of him in the Afghan provinces of Helmand and Uruzgan. It is a charge he shrugs off, claiming that at 65 he has not worked for almost eight years.
“I wish I could do it but they don’t need me any more,” he says. “My students are far ahead of me now. They are giving a lesson to the world. I am very proud of them.”
Although he expresses great admiration for the British military (“far more gallant than the Americans”), Imam says that in sending troops to Helmand, Britain had forgotten its previous wars in Afghanistan.
In particular, he chides, they should have remembered the battle of Maiwand in 1880, in which 2,500 British troops took on 25,000 Afghans and suffered a devastating defeat.
“When people in Helmand heard the British were coming back, the cry went up all over: ‘Remember Maiwand? Our old enemy has come to the same area where they were once defeated to take revenge’. Then everyone, Taliban and nonTaliban, joined together. They told me on the phone, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll make sure the Brits don’t have an easy time’.”