November 17th, 2008
10:55 AM ET

Taliban warns Obama

In a CNN exclusive, a Pakistani Taliban delivers a warning to President-elect Barack Obama. CNN's Reza Sayah reports.
In a CNN exclusive, a Pakistani Taliban delivers a warning to President-elect Barack Obama. CNN's Reza Sayah reports.

Reza Sayah | BIO
CNN Islamabad Correspondent

I’m pretty sure the Taliban didn’t shed tears of joy when America elected Barack Obama as president, but I was curious what they thought. Did the Taliban welcome the change Obama promised in his campaign? What do they think of “America’s evil empire” electing a black man, who shares a middle name with a Muslim prophet, for president?

Getting to the Taliban in Pakistan isn’t easy these days. Sometimes you can reach them by phone but face to face meetings are tough. Two major military offensives in Northwestern Pakistan have Taliban leaders keeping a low profile, and traveling in the region is as dangerous as ever. This week in Peshawar an American aid worker was shot and killed, a Canadian and an Afghan journalist were shot, and an Iranian diplomat was kidnapped. So we had to get creative to get the Taliban on camera.

Ultimately we established contact with Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan through a Pakistani freelance journalist who works with CNN. This was the agreement: we’d deliver 10 written questions and he’d answer them on camera.

The Q & A session took place in Pakistan’s mountainous Swat valley. This place is stunningly beautiful. Some call it Pakistan’s Alps but these days no one’s skiing in Swat. Instead, militants and Pakistani security forces are killing one another, locals are fleeing for safety, and there’s no end in sight to the bloodshed.

Muslim Khan sat in front of the camera with an AK-47 across his lap and answered our questions. I looked at his long white beard, his weathered face. This man is 60 years old, a veteran of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets during the 1980s. Here’s what I wondered while watching him: isn’t he tired of three decades of fighting? Wouldn’t he prefer to spend his golden years relaxing somewhere? Doesn’t he want peace?

Based on what I heard in the Q & A, the answer was an emphatic no, unless U.S. and NATO forces withdraw from Afghanistan. This is the one demand we’ve heard over and over again from the Taliban, the one condition where maybe they’ll stop their jihad. But President elect Obama has made it clear that he plans to add more troops in Afghanistan and go after Al Qaeda and Taliban safe havens in Pakistan’s tribal region. That’s why Muslim Khan says a Barack Obama presidency will change nothing for what the Taliban are fighting for.

In recent months senior U.S. military officials have suggested that maybe it’s time to talk to some “reconcilable” members of the Taliban because you simply can’t kill them all, but there is no guarantee the strategy will work. Will the Taliban accept anything short of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan? Can they be trusted? It’s a complicated regional conflict. Soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan keep dying. A new American president is coming. I wonder how long Muslim Khan’s beard will be before he finds a solution.

Filed under: Barack Obama • Global 360° • Raw Politics • War on Terror
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Wain

    All of you war mongers have no sense of the people or places outside of US. Except for (PA, Seattle, WA) who tried to make some sense. Do any of you even have a passport?

    Kindly get a better grasp of the situation before sending these hate blogs.

    November 17, 2008 at 5:58 pm |
  2. KAREN

    I seen how the taliban treeted there women,life is so hard for women there and little has changed ,we need peace and not war thats a starveing country,we need to be helping each other not killing each other,i think bush and all involved should be tried for there criams,they created all this mess.

    November 17, 2008 at 5:50 pm |
  3. Surafel Melaku

    Look Taliban nor Al-qiada will be please by any change in President in US :- They make it clear that they don't want our presence in their land not just Afhgan but the whole Arab world. Most Arab countries don't like the presence of American in their land – American's don't respect their culture nor give a damn as long as they benefit. That got to change not the presidency for Taliban or Al-qiada to welcome and acknowledge world peace.

    November 17, 2008 at 5:32 pm |
  4. joe

    I give Obama Sun Tzu's sage advice from "The Art of War":

    When doing battle, seek a quick victory. A protracted battle will blunt weapons and dampen ardor.
    * * *
    If the army is exposed to a prolonged campaign, the nation's resources will not suffice.

    When weapons are blunted and ardor dampened, strength exhausted and resources depleted, the neighboring rulers will take advantage of these complications. Then even the wisest of counsel would not be able to avert the consequences that must ensue. Therefore, I have heard of military campaigns that were clumsy but swift, but I have never seen military campaigns that were skilled but protracted.

    November 17, 2008 at 5:00 pm |
  5. Jackie in Dallas

    Jes SC,

    You have a certain validity to your point, but your time scale is off. They've been fighting for millenia. At least 3000 years. They are an isolated, tribal people for whom modern life means little except better guns. They fought each other even before Islam came through and gave them new reasons to fight. Like civil rights here, changes in their way of life will be glacial at first, but eventually, either they will run out of people to fight, or their young people will gradually move away from their way of life. The US is lucky in that our communications and media have accelerated the changes in civil rights for us, but even we have a way to go. I'm not sure what we can do there except to function as a balance of power to keep the progress going. In the more modern areas, children learn to read and write outside of the mosque - including girls - which is a vast improvement over 100 years ago. There are modern businesses, media, communications, and medicine. Gradually, each new generation takes more and more of that for granted, and the extremists and the old men with old ideas will die out. But they won't change.

    November 17, 2008 at 4:57 pm |
  6. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    First WE, the U.S.A. taught the Taliban to fight! During the Russian occupation of Afghanistan we supported the Taliban whom the U.S.A. saw as "freedom fighters"! Now...... look at the mess we have created. This is something that we, Americans, need to know and face. We CREATED the monster that is the Taliban today. It was during ronald Reagan's watch that this happened. And when the Russians left, the Taliban took over and their reign of evil began.

    Yes, President-elect Obama will face many challenges, more so, I think, than any president since FDR!

    May God bless & protect President-elect Obama & our Nation!

    November 17, 2008 at 4:52 pm |
  7. Joanne, Syracuse, NY

    We have a presence in the Middle East to protect Israel and stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. If the Evil Axis of Middle Eastern countries would agree to a treaty and periodic UN inspections, we could indeed get out. Was that proposed as one of the ten interview questions?

    November 17, 2008 at 3:40 pm |
  8. PA, Seattle, WA

    People forget that it wasn't Ronald Reagan that caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was their costly war with Afghanistan.

    Once we are bancrupt and no longer a "super power" because of the never ending wars in the Middle East, will anyone really care who controls Afghanistan?

    November 17, 2008 at 2:45 pm |
  9. Jes S.C.

    These guys have been fighting for centuries. Nothing but death will stop many, so let's wait on a peace agreement and see how long your beard will grow. I wish no harm to no one but from a logical point of view a good terrorist is a dead terrorist . You can smoke that in your peace pipe.

    November 17, 2008 at 2:38 pm |
  10. Bev

    If Bush had kept up what he first did in Afghanistan, perhaps the Taliban wouldn't be almost back to where they once were. Wasted, wasted death, time and money in Iraq has made the situation in Afghanistan even worse. Obama should also tell Pakistan to get their act cleaned up and keep the Taliban (and, most importantly, Bin Laden, from hiding in their country.

    Bev. . Tn Tonawanda, NY

    November 17, 2008 at 12:48 pm |
  11. Joe Bachana

    The will of these people is strong to have a sovereign nation that they can run in the manner they deem best for themselves.

    From a risk management standpoint, based on our recent past history with the Taliban, there is a high probability that an Afghanistan run by them will be anti-Western and a continued breeding ground for violent anti-American militants.

    Pre-2001, the risk mitigation strategy was diplomacy and 'hands-off'. I doubt Obama or any political leader would be willing to tolerate the risks of a Taliban-run Afghanistan today.

    November 17, 2008 at 12:47 pm |
  12. Jeanette

    These terrorists (no matter what we do) are still terrorists and want our way of civilization destroyed. We have no choice but to continue our fight with them. Who can believe anything they would tell us anyway?

    November 17, 2008 at 12:25 pm |
  13. Annie Kate

    If the Taliban has one leader that can speak for all his followers we might have a chance at a negotiated peace. However, if there are factions or different tribes each with their own leader then perhaps some of these groups can be turned to be our allies – divide up the groups and hopefully the rest will fall.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    November 17, 2008 at 12:09 pm |
  14. Cindy

    Even if the U.S. did pull out of Afghanistan like the Taliban want they'd still hate us and come after us. So this interview is saying nothing new. They'll "test" Obama every way that they can I am sure.


    November 17, 2008 at 11:20 am |