Sami Yousafzai

Stories by Sami Yousafzai

  • By The Book: Taliban Fighters Play by Their Own Rules

    In case a Taliban fighter wonders what is expected of him, he can now refer to a nine-page, blue and white, pocket-size pamphlet called the Layeha, which Mullah Mohammed Omar began distributing last month. The book (NEWSWEEK obtained a copy, and has seen Taliban fighters carrying it in several parts of Afghanistan) lays down 29 strictures for conduct on the battlefield and in villages, as well as sanctions faced by those who break the rules: strict Islamic justice. ...
  • The Rise of Jihadistan

    You don't have to drive very far from Kabul these days to find the Taliban. In Ghazni province's Andar district, just over a two-hour trip from the capital on the main southern highway, a thin young man, dressed in brown and wearing a white prayer cap, stands by the roadside waiting for two NEWSWEEK correspondents. It is midday on the central Afghan plains, far from the jihadist-infested mountains to the east and west. Without speaking, the sentinel guides his visitors along a sandy horse trail toward a mud-brick village within sight of the highway. As they get closer a young Taliban fighter carrying a walkie-talkie and an AK-47 rifle pops out from behind a tree. He is manning an improvised explosive device, he explains, in case Afghan or U.S. troops try to enter the village.In a parched clearing a few hundred yards on, more than 100 Taliban fighters ranging in age from teenagers to a grandfatherly 55-year-old have assembled to meet their provincial commander, Muhammad Sabir. An...
  • In the Footsteps of Zarqawi

    If you hoped his June 7 death might be the end of the line for Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, you really don't want to see the newest recruitment videos for the Taliban. Although they never mention the Jordanian-born terrorist by name, the echoes of his Internet videos--and his sheer viciousness--are unmistakable and chilling. The star is Mullah Dadullah Akhund, a one-legged guerrilla commander in southern Afghanistan who now seems bent on matching or exceeding Zarqawi's ugly reputation.In one scene, the black-turbaned Taliban commander, posing for the camera in a southern Afghan moonscape, blasts away at an unseen target with a heavy machine gun. Another sequence has him doling out his blessings to a succession of young men being sent to carry out suicide bombings in Afghan cities and near military bases. The most revolting footage shows a gang of Dadullah's thugs slitting the throats, one by one, of six Afghans they accuse of spying for the Americans. As each head is severed, it is...
  • A War on Schoolgirls

    Summer vacation has only begun, but as far as 12-year-old Nooria is concerned, the best thing is knowing she has a school to go back to in the fall. She couldn't be sure the place would stay open four months ago, after the Taliban tried to burn it down. Late one February night, more than a dozen masked gunmen burst into the 10-room girls' school in Nooria's village, Mandrawar, about 100 miles east of Kabul. They tied up and beat the night watchman, soaked the principal's office and the library with gasoline, set it on fire and escaped into the darkness. The townspeople, who doused the blaze before it could spread, later found written messages from the gunmen promising to cut off the nose and ears of any teacher or student who dared to return.The threats didn't work. Within days, most of the school's 650 pupils were back to their studies. Classes were held under a grove of trees in the courtyard for several weeks, despite the winter chill, until repairs inside the one-story structure...
  • A Violent Wake-Up Call

    Urbane, dapper hamid karzai has always come off well in the international spotlight. But the Afghan president looked decidedly uncomfortable last week as he addressed his own nation following a riot in Kabul on May 29--triggered by a deadly traffic accident between a U.S. military convoy and civilian vehicles that killed seven people. The violence was the worst to strike the capital since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. The mob's rage was directed partly at the U.S. military--but also, surprisingly, at Karzai himself. In one of Ka-bul's main squares, protesters burned a huge portrait of the president.The 48-year-old Karzai has been running Afghanistan for four and a half years. He became the country's first democratically elected president in a landslide victory two years ago. But with the southern part of the country racked by a mounting Taliban insurgency, and economic progress slow and spotty at best, Afghans seem to be turning on their once popular leader. "The rioting...
  • A Friend in Need

    Even with all the troubles that followed, Mohammad Gulab says he's still glad he saved the U.S. Navy SEAL. "I have no regrets for what I did," the 32-year-old Afghan told NEWSWEEK recently. "I'm proud of my action." Nevertheless, he says, "I never imagined I would pay such a price." Last June, foraging for edible plants in the forest near his home in the Kunar-province village of Sabray, Gulab discovered a wounded commando, the lone survivor of a four-man squad that had been caught in a Taliban ambush. Communicating by hand signs, Gulab brought the injured stranger home, fed and sheltered him for two days and helped contact a U.S. rescue team to airlift him out.Gulab has been paying for his kindness ever since. Al Qaeda and the Taliban dominate much of Kunar's mountainous backcountry. Death threats soon forced Gulab to abandon his home, his possessions and even his pickup truck. Insurgents burned down his little lumber business in Sabray. He and his wife and their six children moved...
  • A Risky Feud

    Summit meetings are meant to improve relations. But two recent high-level confabs--one in February between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart, Pervez Musharraf, and the other U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to Islamabad earlier this month--have had the opposite effect. For the cameras, both looked like the usual well-scripted, feel-good affairs--but in fact they've laid bare a serious rift between Afghanistan and Pakistan, America's two key allies in the global war on terror.With the Taliban staging a gradual resurgence in Afghanistan, Karzai has been sniping at Musharraf for months, charging that the Pakistani president is not doing enough to defeat armed radicals who hide out and train along the rugged Afghanistan-Pakistan border. More important, Karzai apparently won Bush over to his skeptical point of view during his brief visit to Kabul prior to the U.S. president's arrival in Islamabad. "After Bush's visit, Afghan officials were very happy and...
  • Wanted: A Few Good Taliban Recruits

    Taking a cue from the media-savvy Iraqi insurgency, the Taliban has produced its first fund-raising, recruiting and training VCD shot entirely in Afghanistan. Taliban sources say that over the next few months, Mullah Mohammed Omar's anti-U.S. movement hopes to distribute hundreds of thousands of copies of the hour long VCD throughout Afghanistan, Pakistan and the wealthiest of the gulf states. "We want to motivate people, make them emotional, so they'll join, contribute to and support our growing jihad against the United States and their puppets in Afghanistan," says Zabihullah, a senior Taliban official based along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.The VCD, titled "Lions of Islam"--a copy of which was obtained by NEWSWEEK--is thoroughly professional. Shots of silhouetted guerrillas armed with AK-47s and RPG launchers are accompanied by songs in Pashto. Groups of masked fighters in Afghan Army camouflage are shown taking target practice, firing mortars and antiaircraft missiles....
  • A Harvest Of Treachery

    In the privacy of his sparsely furnished house in Kabul, a veteran Afghan Interior Ministry official says the situation may already be hopeless. Although he has no authorization to speak with the press, and he could be in personal danger if his identity became known, he's nevertheless too worried to keep silent. "We are losing the fight against drug traffickers," he says. "If we don't crack down on these guys soon, it won't be long until they're in control of everything."His pessimism is spreading. Despite the recent fanfare over the convening of Afghanistan's first elected Parliament in more than three decades, the rule of law is under attack by a ruthless organization of warlords and drug smugglers that spans the country and transcends its ethnic divisions. Narcotics trafficking isn't merely big, it's more than half the economy--amounting to $2.7 billion annually, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)--that is, 52 percent of the country's entire GDP....
  • Unholy Allies

    At sundown, the most- wanted man in Ghazni province comes roaring down a country road astride his motorcycle. Mohammed Daud, 35, commands the biggest Taliban force in this area roughly 100 miles southwest of Kabul. But today he travels with just one bodyguard. The two bikes wheel into a melon patch, trailed by a billowing cloud of red dust. Climbing off his machine, Daud launches into a glowing account of where he spent the first few months of this year and what he's done since his return. "I'm explaining to my fighters every day the lessons I learned and my experience in Iraq," he tells a NEWSWEEK correspondent. "I want to copy in Afghanistan the tactics and spirit of the glorious Iraqi resistance."A crueler setback would be hard to imagine for America and its Afghan allies. At the same time as more than 12 million registered Afghan voters were getting ready last week for their first real parliamentary elections since 1969, insurgents in Baghdad continued their homicidal campaign...
  • TERROR BROKER

    Hardly anyone was more surprised by Iraq's insurgency than Osama bin Laden. The terrorist chief had never foreseen its sudden, ferocious spread, and he was likewise unprepared for the abrupt rise of its most homicidal commander, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. Bin Laden and his aides knew the Jordanian-born Palestinian from Zarqawi's Afghan days, but mostly as a short-tempered bully and a troublemaker. So in the late summer of 2003, unwilling to sit on the sidelines, bin Laden sent two of his most trusted men to assess the Iraqi resistance and carve out a leading role for Al Qaeda. "The resistance happened faster than we expected, and differently, so we were not prepared to assist and direct it," one of the two envoys later told a senior Taliban official. "The sheik sent me to see how we could help."The Taliban man recently told the envoy's story to NEWSWEEK. He personally heard the account from the envoy, a top-ranking Qaeda member known as Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, at a meeting last December in...
  • LAST DAYS OF THE TALIBAN?

    Mullah Mohammad Rafiq, a 28-year-old Taliban fighter with kohl-lined eyes and shoulder-length hair spilling from his black turban, couldn't believe his good luck. Last summer his 20-man guerrilla unit was summoned to the district of Argandab in Kandahar province to rendezvous with Mullah Shahzada Akhund. A senior Taliban commander, Shahzada had just been released from nearly three years' imprisonment by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. At sunset one day, Rafiq's unit was ordered to accompany Shahzada, who was alternately talking on a satellite phone and a walkie-talkie, on a hike into some rocky hills; there they camped for the night. Around 11 p.m. two motorcycles arrived. Shahzada greeted the heavily armed drivers, who then flashed their headlights in code toward a far-off hill. Some 40 minutes later six more motorbikes roared into the makeshift guerrilla camp. Riding on the back of one was a relatively tall man wearing a black turban, a scarf partially covering his face...
  • HAMID KARZAI: 'THERE HAS TO BE PROGRESS'

    Eight million Afghan men and women braved Taliban threats and bad weather to cast their ballots during Afghanistan's first free presidential election this fall. A solid 55.4 percent voted for Hamid Karzai. Last week Karzai was inaugurated in the company of top U.S. officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.Will Karzai now be able to impose his will on a country that continues to be plagued by warlords and militants, where the biggest money earner is opium? In an exclusive interview at the presidential palace in Kabul, the 46-year-old Karzai spoke with NEWSWEEK's Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai about his plans for the next five years. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Will your priority be to dramatically improve security? Ron Moreau and Sami YousafzaiKARZAI: Today I met an elderly village man who had tears in his eyes. He pleaded: "Mr. President, I want a clean government." That was exactly what the Afghan people voted for. That's what I'm going to deliver...
  • 'TALIBAN ARE WELCOME'

    Eight million Afghan men and women braved Taliban threats and bad weather to cast their ballots during Afghanistan's first free presidential election this fall. A solid 55.4 percent voted for Hamid Karzai. Last week Karzai was inaugurated in the company of top U.S. officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Will Karzai now be able to impose his will on a country plagued by warlords and militants, where the biggest money earner is opium? In an exclusive interview at the presidential palace in Kabul, the 46-year-old Karzai spoke with NEWSWEEK's Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai about his plans for the next five years. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Will your priority be to dramatically improve security? KARZAI: Today I met an elderly village man who had tears in his eyes. He pleaded: "Mr. President, I want a clean government." That was exactly what the Afghan people voted for. That's what I'm going to deliver. This means security; this means reconstruction,...
  • A SAVVY HORSE TRADER

    Surrounded by a bevy of bodyguards, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad quickly strode out of the house of Afghan presidential candidate Yunus Qanooni and through a gaggle of journalists waiting outside. "The real show is inside," said the impeccably dressed, Afghan-born envoy as he rushed to his armored car last week, after the country's first post-Taliban presidential election. He was being modest. These days, Khalilzad's highly persuasive diplomacy is the real show in Afghanistan.Dressed in a silver gown and striped cape, Qanooni told the press that he was dropping his objection to the results of the country's Oct. 9 election in favor of an investigation by a panel of foreign experts into alleged electoral fraud--a Khalilzad suggestion. By the weekend, preliminary results showed incumbent Hamid Karzai with a lead comfortable enough to suggest victory. If that proves true, he owes Khalilzad a big thank-you. Heated charges of poll-rigging from Qanooni, Uzbek warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid...
  • 'LIVING DEAD' NO MORE

    During the reign of the Taliban, when movies, music, television and women's education were banned, Roya Sadat wanted to be a filmmaker. She wrote scripts, and studied books on drama and moviemaking that had been smuggled in from neighboring Iran. "I always had hope that change would come one day," says Sadat, 23. Within a year of the Taliban's collapse in late 2001, she produced a 20-minute movie that showed "how Afghan women were like the living dead." The movie caught the attention of Golden Globe-winning Afghan director Siddiq Barmak, who helped finance Sadat's first feature film, "Three Dots." The film depicts the life of a young widow living in a remote area under the control of a warlord, who forces her to smuggle drugs into Iran. It won top prize at this summer's Afghan Film Festival. "In the past, women couldn't be what they wanted to be, only what men wanted them to be," says the filmmaker.Sadat's success is just one example of how far Afghan women have come over the past...
  • 'We Don't Recognize The Results'

    Even before the polling booths closed in Afghanistan's first-ever direct presidential election, all 15 candidates running against incumbent Hamid Karzai denounced the election as a fraud and refused to recognize the results.The resulting turmoil bewildered the millions of Afghan voters, most of whom were casting their first ballots ever. Facing unseasonably cold strong winds, blinding dust storms and death threats from Taliban guerrillas, they made their way to the polls today, many traveling on foot over rugged mountain trails. Thanks to the strong security presence of a combined force of some 100,000 Afghan police and Afghan, NATO and American soldiers, the Taliban's offensive never materialized. As a result voting was largely calm and orderly across the largely mountainous country, only three years after the overthrow of the repressive Taliban regime.But several flaws in the voting and voter registration process quickly turned what could have been a landmark election into one...
  • STRIKING A BARGAIN

    It's easy to spot where the secret negotiations are taking place in Kabul. Look for heavily armed men in camouflage fatigues blocking traffic, or for armadas of luxury four-by-fours with tinted windows double-parked. Inside restaurants, private residences and guesthouses around Kabul, presidential candidates are meeting with each other or the representatives of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the man to beat in the country's first presidential election on Oct. 9. Rather than building their political operations or hitting the campaign trail in dusty towns and mud-brick villages across the country, the 17 candidates opposing Karzai are doing what comes naturally: resorting to traditional, tribal-style bargaining to secure political power before the vote. "The name of the game right now is 'Let's Make a Deal'," says Andrew Wilder, director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent research organization.The fact that the war-ravaged country is about to hold...
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    Bin Laden's Back Channel

    When al Qaeda needed to send secret messages, Khan often did the job--until he was nabbed and turned.
  • ON THE BORDER: THE BOOMERANG EFFECT

    Rafiq Bahai has seen better days. His Pakistani-based group of jihadis, the Al Badr Mujahedin, once led fierce raids on Indian troops in the disputed territory of Kashmir. But last year this regional commander's wings were clipped. President Pervez Musharraf ordered Bahai's recruiting offices shut down, his phone lines cut and his bank account frozen. His Pakistani military handlers have forbidden him from raising funds or recruiting openly. Knowing he is under surveillance, Bahai recently met clandestinely with a NEWSWEEK reporter in a real-estate office in a northern Pakistani town. He boasts that he still has hundreds of fighters operating inside Indian-controlled Kashmir but admits that most of his men, who are largely ethnic Pashtuns from Pakistan, have returned home to their farms and villages since Musharraf's crackdown. "Naturally our mujahedin are frustrated," says the 33-year-old Bahai, who asked that his real name not be used. "But our spirits are high and we still enjoy...
  • The Harder Hunt For Bin Laden

    Outwardly, Osama bin Laden's protectors in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan affect a haughty unconcern. Taliban fighters in Pakistan, interviewed last week, laughed at the spectacle of a disheveled and down-and-out Saddam Hussein getting hoisted out of his hole, utterly abandoned by aides and bodyguards who once pledged to die for him.Taliban fighters hiding in plain sight in Pakistan say this will never be the fate of bin Laden, his deputy Ayman Al-Zawahiri or Mullah Mohammed Omar, the ousted Taliban leader who remains their closest political ally. The terror chieftains are well protected by their bodyguards, by the local population and by Afghanistan's forbidding geography. While Saddam faced a 130,000-strong U.S. Army relentlessly tightening the noose, bin Laden is up against a scant 10,000-man U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. And unlike Saddam's henchmen, supporters of bin Laden and Omar are "linked by Islam, not by money," these Taliban sources boast. "We have a...
  • Bin Laden's Iraq Plans

    During the muslim holy month of Ramadan, three senior Qaeda representatives allegedly held a secret meeting in Afghanistan with two top Taliban commanders. The confab took place in mid-November in the remote, Taliban-controlled mountains of Khowst province near the Pakistan border, a region where Al Qaeda has found it easy to operate--frequently even using satellite phones despite U.S. surveillance. At that meeting, according to Taliban sources, Osama bin Laden's men officially broke some bad news to emissaries from Mullah Mohammed Omar, the elusive leader of Afghanistan's ousted fundamentalist regime. Their message: Al Qaeda would be diverting a large number of fighters from the anti-U.S. insurgency in Afghanistan to Iraq. Al Qaeda also planned to reduce by half its $3 million monthly contribution to Afghan jihadi outfits.All this was on the orders of bin Laden himself, the sources said. Why? Because the terror chieftain and his top lieutenants see a great opportunity for killing...
  • Holy War 101

    Abdul Bari's school day begins at 4 a.m. The freckle-faced, outgoing 9-year-old, an Afghan poppy farmer's son, wakes up on the tile floor he shares with four dozen other students at the Jamia Uloom Islamia religious academy, in the untamed mountains of Pakistan's tribal areas. After morning prayer services, he fixes tea for the older boys and himself, eating a bit of bread before classes start at daybreak. Students spend most of the day reciting the Qur'an; memorizing every one of its 6,666 verses is the main requirement for graduation. Still, this madrassa is the only formal schooling most of these boys will ever have. So they learn civics from a white-bearded scholar named Amanullah, 65, who teaches them about the Taliban. "There was a real Islamic regime," the old man says. "They fixed 25 years of problems in no time, using Islamic laws."Another faculty member, Mullah Taj Mohammad, 40, gives a current-events lesson, warning of the evils that lurk in non-Islamic lands: "I've heard...
  • Rumors Of Bin Laden's Lair

    Gray-bearded and almost toothless, Khan Kaka lives in a mud house with a weather-beaten pine door beside a little plot of corn and vegetables. But to his neighbors in this corner of Afghanistan's remote Kunar province, the gangling, tobacco-chewing old man is one of the most respected figures in the Pech River valley. It's all about connections: since 1996 Kaka's son-in-law, an Algerian named Abu Hamza al Jazeeri, has been a special bodyguard to the man Kaka calls loar sheik--"big chief"--Osama bin Laden.Every two months or so, al Jazeeri comes down from the mountains to visit his wife and three sons, who live with Kaka. "He appears and disappears like lightning," Kaka says. "I never know when he's coming or going." The old man and his neighbors listen eagerly to the latest news from the Qaeda leader's hideout. On a visit in January al Jazeeri reported that one of bin Laden's daughters-in-law had recently died in childbirth, and that bin Laden spoke at her funeral, blaming America...
  • A Deadly Habit

    Sitting in a plush leather chair and smoking a Cuban cigar in his office in Jalalabad, Nanghyal, 38, looks the part of a drug-mafia don--and until recently, he was. Now after 15 years he is bailing out of the opium-trafficking business. He doesn't need to run drugs anymore, he says, thanks to a series of smart real-estate deals. But according to him, the main reason he's quitting the trade is because it's becoming too rough. Nanghyal, who didn't want to give his real name, says he used to be a 50-50 partner in the opium business in Nangarhar province with the late Afghan vice president and warlord Haji Qadir, who was assassinated in Kabul last year. Now that Hazrat Ali, a Qadir rival, has taken over the province, Nanghyal knows he's worn out his welcome. "The newcomers, these [military] commanders who are good friends of the U.S., are taking over by force," he complains. "These guys are powerful and cruel and they don't want any competition."Ever since Afghanistan became embroiled...
  • Flowers Of Destruction

    Opium has been a lifesaver for Ghulam Shah. The 35-year-old Afghan farmer could barely feed his family on the few hundred dollars a year he earned growing wheat. But last year, liberated at last from the Taliban and its ban on poppy farming, Shah raised enough to pay all his debts and take his teenage daughter to Pakistan for kidney surgery. He estimates this year's crop at roughly 25 kilos of raw opium--about $9,000, a fortune in a country where most people earn less than $1 a day. "Now I can fill my family's stomachs, send my daughter to school and sleep well," he says, collecting the narcotic sap from his 2i-acre plot in Laghman province, east of Kabul. Shah thanks God and the local warlord, Hazrat Ali, for his good fortune. He says Ali even issued him the AK-47 he uses to protect his family and his crop. "We are all Hazrat Ali's soldiers," the farmer declares. "We all work for him."Ali--one of the most powerful men in a country that supplies three quarters of the world's opiates...
  • Pakistan: Controlling 'Evil'

    For the past 40 years, 50-year-old Shaukat Khan has made a modest income singing and dancing at weddings, family celebrations and private gala parties. Now he is being run out of show business along with hundreds of other entertainers in Pakistan's North-West Frontier province. They are among the first casualties of the aggressive, "anti-obscenity" crackdown on the performing arts being orchestrated by the Islamist United Action Council, or MMA in its Urdu acronym. "The mullahs hate us," says Khan. "They only want us to study the holy Qur'an." In its zealous drive to Islamicize the strategic province, the pro-Taliban coalition of six conservative religious parties, which swept last November's NWFP provincial election, has ordered police to tear down suggestive advertising, remove CDs from store windows, seize "obscene" material and even arrest store owners. Under the MMA's watch, police have held public bonfires of confiscated videos, CDs, posters and cosmetics. "Sadly, we are...
  • Back In Business

    When his invitation finally arrived this July, Mohammad Rasul says he didn't hesitate. Within days the Kabul businessman, 36, was one of 28 new Afghan recruits at a jihadist training camp run by two seasoned Qaeda fighters, a Yemeni and a Chechen, somewhere in a forested part of Afghanistan. "Our target is to kill Americans and America's servants," the Yemeni told the group. "There is no difference between the U.S. and [Afghan leader Hamid] Karzai." A decade of civilian life had not erased the skills Rasul (he goes by an alias) first learned fighting against the Soviet invaders in the 1980s. Two days after he arrived at the camp, he says he was chosen to be an assistant trainer. He helped teach the other recruits to fire RPG-7s and to launch BM-12 rockets from simple, jury-rigged stands. The group trained on antiaircraft guns, planted antitank and antipersonnel mines and made bombs using diesel fuel and chemical fertilizer. They studied small-unit combat and ambush tactics. When the...