- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2001

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Any holy decree or "fatwa" issued by Osama bin Laden declaring holy war against the United States and ordering Muslims to kill Americans is "null and void," according to the Talibans supreme leader.
Bin Laden, Americas most wanted terror suspect, "is not entitled to issue fatwas as he did not complete the mandatory 12 years of Quranic studies to qualify for the position of mufti," said Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhund, known to every Afghan as amir-ul-mumineen (supreme leader of the faithful).
Mullah Omar made clear that the Islamic Emirate, as the Taliban regime calls itself, would like to "resolve or dissolve" the bin Laden issue. In return, he expects the United States to establish a dialogue that would lead to "an easing and then lifting of U.N. sanctions that are strangling and killing the people of the Emirate."
The two issues are linked, both in Washington and in Kandahar, the nations sprawling, dust-choked religious center of 750,000 people where Mullah Omar and his 10-man ruling Shura, or council, have their headquarters.
Mullah Omar, 41, is a soft-spoken man of very few words. He relies on Rahmatullah Hashimi, a 24-year-old multilingual "ambassador-at-large," rumored to be Afghanistans next foreign minister, to translate and expand his short, staccato statements.
The one-eyed, 6-foot-6-inch, five-times wounded veteran of the war against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s was also the architect of the Talibans victory over the multiple warring factions that followed the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
Sitting cross-legged on the carpeted mud floor of his spartan adobe house on the west end of town, Mullah Omars shrapnel-scarred face, topped by a black turban, shows no emotion as he answers in quick succession a military field telephone, walkie-talkies and a wideband radio.
"Were still fighting a war," he says impatiently, referring to Ahmed Shah Masoods guerrilla forces, which still hold 10 percent of Afghan territory in the northeastern part of the country.
According to U.S. intelligence reports, bin Laden has issued instructions that his followers have described as fatwas. But Mullah Omar said, "Only muftis can issue fatwas." Bin Laden "is not a mufti, and therefore any fatwas he may have issued are illegal and null and void."
The Afghan supreme leader also said bin Laden is not allowed any contact with the media or with foreign government representatives.
Afghanistan, according to the amir, has suggested to the United States and to the United Nations that international "monitors" keep bin Laden under observation pending a resolution of the case, "but so far we have received no reply."
Mr. Hashimi, in flawless English, added: "We also notified the United States we were putting bin Laden on trial last September for his alleged crimes and requested that relevant evidence be presented."
He said the court sat for 40 days, but the United States never presented any evidence of suspected crimes by bin Laden, including his suspected involvement in the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa, which Mullah Omar agreed were "criminal acts."
"Bin Laden, for his part, swore on the Quran he had nothing to do with those terrorist bombings and that he is not responsible for what others do who claim to know him," Mr. Hashimi said.
On Tuesday, a New York court sentenced one Saudi Arabian to life in prison in connection with the embassy bomb attacks; three more men — a Tanzanian, a U.S. citizen and a Jordanian — have also been found guilty and are awaiting sentencing. All claimed to have been acting on orders from bin Laden.
In March, Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf told The Washington Times that by demonizing bin Laden, the United States had turned him into a cult figure among Muslim masses and "a hero among Islamist extremists."
Since then, the State Department has played down the importance of bin Laden. Mullah Omar clearly wishes to do the same. But politically, he cannot afford to deport him lest he arouse the wrath of his fellow extremists.
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the only three countries that recognize the Taliban government. Saudi Arabia and the UAE secretly fund the Taliban by paying Pakistan for its logistical support to Afghanistan.
Mr. Hashemi, a highly intelligent high school dropout who toured the United States earlier this year, fielded other questions that Mullah Omar felt had been answered in recent months:
On the lack of schools for girls: "We dont even have enough schools for boys. Everything was destroyed in 20 years of fighting. The sooner U.N. sanctions are lifted, the sooner we can finish building schools for both boys and girls."
On the treatment of women: "You forget that America and the rest of the world are centuries ahead of us. If you introduced your manners and mores suddenly in Afghanistan, society would implode and anarchy would ensue. We dont interfere with what we consider your decadent lifestyle, so please refrain from interfering with ours."
On the destruction of TV sets: "Try to imagine what would have happened in 18th- or even 19th-century America or Europe with the overnight introduction of television and all the sex that is now part of programs everywhere except Iran. We are not against television, but against the filth that pollutes the airwaves."
Distributed by United Press International.

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