- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2001

LAHORE, Pakistan Mullah Omar, the one-eyed Taliban cleric who is defying the West, is hardly cut out to be a leader.
Although of striking physique with a flourishing long, black beard and a black turban, he is shy and withdrawn. He is a poor public speaker and has never traveled widely in his own country, let alone abroad.
For the past seven years he has led a reclusive life bordering on the paranoid. He rarely meets non-Muslim diplomats and journalists, and only met the U.N. mediator for Afghanistan for the first time in 1998 four years after the Taliban came to power.
He makes no public appearances or speeches and has travelled to Kabul, the capital, only twice since the Taliban movement arose in 1994. There are no photographs of him, and most Afghans do not know what he looks like.
On Fridays, surrounded by dozens of bodyguards, he attends prayers at the main mosque in Kandahar, a city favored by Taliban hard-liners and a likely target ahead of Kabul for the Americans.
Mullah Omar is such an enigma that many Afghans initially thought that he was a figment of the imagination of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence, who supported the Taliban from the start.
He was born into a family of landless peasants in a village near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan in 1959. He studied at a "madrassa," or religious school, and became a mullah in the village mosque of Singesar in Kandahar province.
Mullah Omar fought for the Afghan mujahideen at the end of the war against the Soviets in the 1980s. He has three wives, one a teen-ager named Guljana, whom he married in 1995, and five children.
Along with many former mujahideen comrades, he was disgusted with the despotism, crime and mayhem that swept through southern Afghanistan between 1990 and 1994.
In 1994, Mullah Omar and his comrades formed an organization called "Taliban," or "Islamic students," who pledged to impose law and order and create a pure Islamic society.
"We chose Mullah Omar to lead us, not for his political or military ability, but for his piety and his unswerving belief in Islam. We chose him as the first amongst equals," said his close friend and now governor of Kandahar, Mullah Mohammed Hassan.
On Saturday, Mullah Omar said that if the United States invaded Afghanistan through neighboring countries, "the mujahideen would have to enter the territory of such a country."
Such threats, with Pakistan the main target, may well be mere bravado. The Taliban is a deeply divided movement with an army, rather than a political party. Taliban moderates are likely to flee the country rather than face the American onslaught.
In 1995, Mullah Omar's followers appointed him Amir ul Momineen Commander of the Faithful a Quranic title that attempted to give religious legitimacy to a leader who had no political legitimacy to seize power.
The Taliban troops swept through southern Afghanistan to capture Kabul in 1996, where for the first time they said they would conquer the rest of the country. That was the moment when Mullah Omar first met Osama bin Laden and the two became close friends.
Bin Laden introduced Mullah Omar to the wider world of Islamic radicalism, global jihad and hatred of the United States. Bin Laden flattered Mullah Omar, calling him the emir, or leader, of the whole Muslim world.
While the Taliban granted him a sanctuary and facilities, bin Laden built a bomb-proof house for Mullah Omar and his wives, funded the Taliban movement and recruited thousands of Arabs to fight in the Taliban army.
He also facilitated business ventures with the Taliban the smuggling of consumer goods from Dubai and Pakistan and drug trafficking from Afghanistan.
And if bin Laden did organize the assassination last week of the Taliban's worst enemy and leader of the anti-Taliban alliance, Ahmad Shah Massoud, he has only further ingratiated himself with Mullah Omar.

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