Barnett Rubin on CNN's Amanpour

Barnett Rubin speaks with AmanpourCNN’s International's flagship program for global affairs hosted by Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

CNN TRANSCRIPT Aired July 29, 2015 - 14:00:00   ET

AMANPOUR: And just ahead, for years we've wondered whether Mullah Omar was dead or alive. He hasn't been seen since around 9/11. I asked 
world renowned expert Barnett Rubin what difference his death would make now. That's next.

AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. 

The leader of the Taliban is dead -- actually, he's been dead for two years. That is according to Afghan officials, who, today, confirmed that Mullah Omar passed away in a hospital in Pakistan in 2013. The Taliban has repeatedly denied rumors like this and just two weeks ago, they released a statement from their reclusive leader.

So what does the news mean for peace in Afghanistan? 

AMANPOUR: Joining me now is Barnett Rubin, who has advised the United States and the United Nations on Afghanistan.

Welcome to the program, Professor Rubin.

BARNETT RUBIN, AFGHANISTAN EXPERT: Thank you, Christiane, good to see you.

AMANPOUR: I guess, first and foremost, who knew and why now? Did the Pakistanis know? Did the Afghans know? Who's telling whom what happened?

RUBIN: Well, the first and most honest answer to that is I don't know. But certainly it seems almost certain that if he died in a hospital, then the government of Pakistan or at least a very little part of it that the intelligence agencies must have known. I don't have the impression that the Afghan government was certain about it until the last few days. And in the U.S. government where I serve, I saw no indication that anyone knew that.

AMANPOUR: Well, I'm hearing that there are a lot of red faces right now in all the capitals that you have just mentioned, red with anger and probably embarrassment as well. Tell me, though, the significance. What does it mean beyond all the masquerading and the false statements that were put out in his name and even the president of Afghanistan actually publicly thanking Mullah Omar not so long ago for special aid greetings?

RUBIN: Well, first of all, it's important to understand that Mullah Omar was not just a political leader; he was a religious leader. He had a religious title, Amir al-Mu'minin, Commander of the Faithful, and his followers swore a religious oath of loyalty to him, bay'ah. That meant that he had a kind of authority over his --

RUBIN: -- organization that no other political leader in Afghanistan has. So if there were any conflicts in the organization -- and there could be many conflicts, disagreements and so on -- once he made up his mind, that was the answer and everyone had to obey.Now at the moment, the president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, with the support of China in particular, has gone to Pakistan, made a number of concessions about the relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and convinced Pakistan finally to put pressure on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.

Now what they -- they had a meeting on July 7th between some senior Taliban and some Afghan government officials. But it's been quite unclear what the Taliban's actual position about that is. The Afghan government, the government of Pakistan said that this was an authorized delegation.

The official Taliban media in Pakistan have not quite said that; they've said that -- and this is what -- so this Mullah Omar supposedly said in his statement on Eid, which is that they support negotiations as a way of ending the conflict, but that the part of the Taliban authorized to do that is the political commission, like their diplomatic arm, which has set up shop in Doha, Qatar, in order to be away from Pakistani influence and control.

And that commission has been saying that these are not authorized talks.

AMANPOUR: So, I mean, that leads to the obvious next question, if everybody is using the name of a dead man to get their own political advantage in what's going on, what does happen? What happens now with these so-called peace talks? Because another round is scheduled for today or -- sorry; tomorrow or the day after.

RUBIN: Well, there are increasing demands from within the movement for Mullah Omar to come up and say something, precisely to decide among these different positions, which as I mentioned, he's the only one with the authority to do.

And that's why whoever released it, most likely the Pakistani intelligence agency, had to release this information right now. Now they may have done it now on purpose. There's a second session of the -- of the talks which is supposed to happen on Friday, also in Pakistan.

And now that there's no unquestioned leadership to question the legitimacy and now that there is a succession process going on among the Taliban, because they have to decide who inherits Mullah Omar's place, there's actually more space for Pakistan to try to control the movement. 

And at this point, in favor of a peace settlement because that is what they have now decided to do.


RUBIN: But the day -- what we don't know is if the Taliban will have a Pakistan-approved leader, a leader who tries to resist Pakistan or if they don't succeed to have any leader at all and start to break up.

AMANPOUR: Golly. Professor Barnett Rubin, showing us once again that this is a mystery inside a riddle and wrapped up in an enigma, or something like that, whatever Winston Churchill said. But it's really confusing. 

And after a break, you just heard Professor Rubin say that Mullah Omar was a religious leader, not just a political leader. And I got the first look inside his Kandahar compound after the U.S. coalition defeated the Taliban and Al Qaeda after 9/11 -- not nearly as humble as the Taliban piously claimed. Imagine that -- next. 

AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine the world of the reclusive and now late Mullah Omar. The Taliban would have you believe that he led an austere, monklike life, but in 2001, I had the first look inside his Afghanistan compound after it was bombed by the United States. And he and Osama bin Laden were on the run.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): In a stunning setting in the foothills of Kandahar's mountains, Mullah Omar's compound offers a few surprises. 

Outside, walking through the rubble of the guest and cattle quarters, we see that every room had air conditioning, including the cowsheds, electric ceiling fans to cool the animals. And to drink, running water from these taps. The vast majority of the people in this country don't have access to clean water. 

"They built this all of this for the cows, while our people never had these things," said Saylab. "This was built with Osama's money, with the blood of the Afghan people."

And inside, chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, plush carpets and a mirrored wall. It's a level of showy opulence that no one here imagined from a man promoted as a humble cleric living in a simple mud-brick house

The only evidence found here today suggests a leader who, in the name of God, demanded so much sacrifice from his people, but seemed to suffer none himself.


AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program tonight. Remember you can always see the whole show online at, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.


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