Exactly what was it that new Yale student Sayeed Rahmatullah Hashemi did for the Taliban? Discussions of this issue so far have usually tagged him an “envoy” or “ambassador”. But a little digging shows he was far more than just a mouthpiece. To paraphrase one of my critics, Mr. Rahmatullah was quite the rising star in the Taliban firmament. His work as a translator, and then as a spokesman, vaulted him up the Taliban hierarchy into the service of Mullah Omar himself.
Folks wishing to see Mr. Rahmatullah as a storm-tossed waif who “escaped the wreckage of Afghanistan” (to use Yale’s own phrase from their only press release on the controversy) are deceiving themselves about his agency in creating that wreckage.
Exhibit one in this regard is his defense of Osama bin Laden. Many sources writing on the Yale Taliban issue have referred to his speech at USC in March of 2001. There has been less discussion of his March 27th interview with PBS’s Ray Suarez that same month, in which he explains what a stand-up guy Osama is:
They have made this man [bin Laden] very famous, and this man has helped Afghans in their very hard time. He has helped the Afghans with his own personal money – millions of dollars during the Soviet occupation.
So for the Afghans, he is a good guy. If we were to hand this good guy to the U.S., what kind of justification will we give to our people? So we need some kind of evidence so that we can prove to our people that this man is involved in some kind of horrendous act somewhere.
Mr. Rahmatullah was actually quite familiar with Osama’s true nature. Chip Brown’s New York Times Magazine article points out that Mr. Rahmatullah had translated the American indictment against him from English into Urdu and Pashto.
Exhibit Two is Mr. Rahmatullah’s advancement within the Taliban. He started out as a document translator, then somehow landed his gig talking up the Taliban in America. At the time, according to John Fund, his official title was “second foreign secretary”. Dan Rather was already calling Mr. Rahmatullah a Taliban “senior official” back in October, 2000.