The Taliban's rising star: no poor little lamb

Posted: Mar 20, 2006 12:05 AM

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.

Apparently he had impressed the mullahs with his footwork in America, because soon after he returned, Mr. Rahmatullah went to work as a personal adviser to Mullah Omar—a fact left out of the glowing New York Times Magazine writeup, which notes only that when he reported on his trip “to Mullah Omar and a group of senior advisers” in Kandahar, “[i]t was quickly evident that they weren’t interested in his ideas.”

Apparently they were so uninterested in Mr. Rahmatullah’s ideas that they promoted him to the Taliban’s equivalent of Karl Rove.  Leftist journalist Robert Fisk identifies Mr. Rahmatullah as a “Senior Adviser” to Mullah Omar.  When UPI’s Arnaud de Borchgrave interviewed Mullah Omar in June 2001, Mr. Rahmatullah did all the talking.  Where Mullah Omar comes off as the strong, silent type in the interview, Mr. Rahmatullah emerges as the idea man, the big picture guy, the strategist with both eyes open, Mullah Omar having lost one of his fighting the Soviets. 

In fact, the Taliban’s senior officials were so unimpressed by Mr. Rahmatullah that de Borchgrave notes he was “rumored to be Afghanistan’s next foreign minister”.  And now, if Yale permits him to transfer in from his “special student” program to the regular undergraduate degree program, he may yet achieve that goal.

Mr. Ramahtullah is not, as Yale’s Whiffenpoofs might sing, some “poor little lamb who’s lost his way”.  It is condescending and, frankly, colonialist to give Mr. Rahmatullah a pass for his participation in Taliban tyranny.  Just because he comes from a different culture—even an indigenous, “authentic” one—does not exonerate his knowing, willing work in shoring up the Taliban’s strength and possibly as an architect of their ideology—and as he notes in his March 2001 speech at USC, “ideology is everything” to the Taliban.

At best, Mr. Rahmatullah was an apologist for evil.  But the widespread perception of Mr. Rahmatullah in 2001 suggests he didn’t just work for the Taliban; he was the Taliban.

If these facts about Mr. Rahmatullah come as a surprise, they shouldn’t.  My research assistant, Mr. Google, found all this stuff in about half an hour. (He’s good at figuring out stuff the Times misses.)  That this information was so easy to find says something scary about Yale’s and the State Department’s decisions to admit him.  Either they didn’t perform this basic bit of due diligence on an applicant from a terrorist regime, or else they knew all this and decided to admit him anyway.

In either case, Yale’s decision to admit Mullah Omar’s personal adviser, and the likely next Foreign Minister for the Taliban, remains inexcusable.  If you are interested in expressing your outrage to Yale, here’s just the way to do it.