Robert Fisk: Should the West take this new policy seriously?

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The Independent Online

If only Mullah Mohammed Omar had read Sir John Squire's mischievous poem of the First World War, he might have put things a little differently. "God this, God that, and God the other thing," God heard the combatants appeal to him in the poem. "'Good God,' said God, 'I've got my work cut out'." And so He would after the mullah's peroration to the BBC Pushtu service yesterday.

The destruction of America would only take a short time "if God's help is with us", he said. The United States "will fall to the ground, God willing". It was an angry, visceral yet oddly thoughtful statement from the man whose Taliban government had lost almost every province of Afghanistan in just 24 hours. But the war was not about Afghanistan, he said. It was about the destruction of America. Indeed, there were times when Mullah Omar's simplicity sounded a bit like that of his adversary in Washington.

There were two things, he said: extremism (ifraat – doing something to excess) and conservatism (tafreet – doing something insufficiently). Could there be a better Taliban version of George Bush's warning that "you are either with us or against us"? The message was equally clear. There was no "moderate" Taliban and there would be no "broad-based" government of the kind Western governments were now fondly envisaging.

"The struggle for a broad-based government has been going on for the past 20 years, but nothing came of it," he said. "We will not accept a government of wrongdoers. We prefer death than to be a part of an evil government." In fact, the Taliban were all "moderates, taking the middle path", he said.

Mullah Omar's caustic remarks on the struggle for an inter-ethnic government are all too true. The West's intellectuals may believe in the principles of democratic government but their touching faith has never been vouchsafed by history. The 1992-96 Northern Alliance government – a bloodbath that killed 50,000 people – was supposed to be a "broad-based" administration.

There were the usual battle cries. The city of Kandahar, spiritual capital of the Taliban, remained in the hands of his Taliban militia but it was the United States that remained the focus of the struggle.

The destruction of the America would happen "within a short period of time". And Mullah Omar, who is believed to listen only to the BBC and the "Voice of America", told the BBC's World Service that "you, the BBC, and American public radios have created a sense of concern but the current situation of Afghanistan is related to a big cause – that is the destruction of America".

He continued: "The plan is going ahead and, God willing, it is being implemented but it is a huge task that is beyond the comprehension of human beings. If God's help is with us, this will happen within a short period of time – keep in mind this prediction."

When did this desire to destroy America enter Mullah Omar's mind? It wasn't what he said when he was adorned in the Robe of the Prophet back in 1996. He said then that he merely wished to protect Afghans. Within months, his administration was talking to US diplomats while American oil companies courted Taliban officials in Kandahar. So the elimination of the United States is a late addition to Taliban policy. Why?

And how seriously is the West supposed to take it?