SocraticGadfly: So, did the Taliban REALLY have a "no strings attached" offer to surrender bin Laden or worse? Or was Alex Cockburn lying?

September 09, 2021

So, did the Taliban REALLY have a "no strings attached" offer to surrender bin Laden or worse? Or was Alex Cockburn lying?

Via the "Roaming Charges" scattershooting column by Counterpunch's Jeff St. Clair two weeks ago, we get that claim. Specifically, that the Taliban offered to do this before 9/11. Color me skeptical.

That was linked inside the column, to an old CP piece by Alexander Cockburn. Counterpunch's claim, via an Afghan informant, that the Taliban was ready to hand over bin Laden pre-9/11, with few strings attached, seems ... uh, not likely. 

First, despite some claims by Kabir Mohabbat about setting up a deal? Especially the ones about the Taliban deliberately making bin Laden a sitting duck? The Slickster had already tried to off him with a cruise missile in 1998 and a RPG in 2000.

Second, per this story and others, like this the Taliban, when it offered to make a post-9/11 deal, had preconditions. Part of that was an amnesty. (No duh.) But, there were other preconditions. One was that Bush prove bin Laden was behind 9/11. And, that it wouldn't be a direct handover to US hands.

Mullah Omar, beyond that, directly contracts Mohabbat, at least for public consumption. And, at least one assistant of his is on the record to the same end with al Jazeera.

The idea that the Taliban would have made him a sitting duck is also laughable. They knew by this time of Clinton's missed cruise missile, first. From that, they had some idea of the relative accuracy of cruise missiles. Also, by this time, even though at one point, the Taliban restricted his movements somewhat, had pinch come to shove, bin Laden would have exploited factionalism either within the Taliban, or between Taliban and other mujahideen, to make sure his movements wouldn't have been too circumscribed.Beyond that, psychologically? If you're attaching conditions still even after the bombing starts? It's laughable to think that the Taliban would have had done a no-strings deal before that.

That said, from all we know from stuff like this, Mohabbat may have had some axes to grind, or self-importance to puff up. In addition, the interview was by Cockburn, who may have been committing one of the two sins that led me to de-blogroll Counterpunch for a number of years. That sin? It's the same as today's allegedly outside the box stenos like Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté — a reflexive anti-Americanism that engages in twosiderism and says that everything the bipartisan foreign policy establishment gets wrong must therefore be right. (Xi Jinping and the Uyghurs is today's obvious example, whether seemingly a sincere belief from the likes of Aaron, or presumable grift/PR flak from the likes of Max.) 

Sidebar: Alex's other sin was, IMO, pushing the envelope of anti-Zionism into antisemitism. Now, my knowledge of how much and how readily the cudgel of conflating these two is used by Zionists has grown a lot since then. But .... within leftism and left-liberalism, other people raised an eyebrow at times about him. At a minimum, even when trying to be charitable to him and taking individual comments within the context of an entire column or essay, Alex left himself open to charges like this, and they were leveled not just within leftism and left-liberalism, but by people who were often sympatico with him.

In short, and bluntly, one or both of these two was lying. Both are dead and can't be interrogated.

But, given that Mohabbat's claims have been covered elsewhere, and also here, with no mention of any "unconditional surrender" (or of "I'll get the Taliban to make him a sitting duck for a cruise missile") it's pretty clear who was lying or exaggerating of the two, and it ain't him. Gee, I'm shocked. I'm also "shocked" that this, the "unconditional surrender," is claimed to have been part of a direct quote of Mohabbat.


Sadly, brother Patrick hasn't fallen all that far from the apple tree. On Tuesday a week ago, he semi-sneered at the idea that ISIS-K and the Taliban were separate entities, even though the animosity between parent ISIS and the Taliban has been well known for years. For real insight about the Greater Middle East, you should start with James Dorsey. Dorsey wrote precisely about this same issue on the same date.

To some degree, Cockburn and Dorsey have different focuses. Patrick, like his brother, is in part trying to flog the U.S. bipartisan foreign policy establishment, and when the backside of the establishment is presented any tool becomes a whip, while Dorsey is focused on the Greater Middle East on its own terms. That said, for all the reflexive anti-Americanism both Cockburns show at times, why can't THEY on occasion do just that? Robert Fisk did. As part of that different focus, Dorsey also looks beyond just ISIS-K to other challenges the Taliban may face from alternative militant groups.

In all that, though, there's some degree of straight disagreement about how much the Taliban have to fear, Dorsey indicates it's more a real thing than Cockburn does. (And, although Dorsey doesn't go into it, this may be another reason why the Taliban put preconditions on surrendering bin Laden. They didn't really want to, because it might threaten their control over Afghanistan; preconditions gave them an out.)

(Update: In a new piece, Dorsey notes Iran has already cooled to the Taliban somewhat do to its freeze-out of ethnic Hazaris, who are also religiously Shi'ite. Again, you won't find stuff like this in the more simplistic pages of Counterpunch.)

Between these things and more and more CP stuff being paywalled, it may be on blogroll watch.

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