The Tale of Mullah Omar’s Eye

As the cliché goes, Mullah Omar is the ‘reclusive one-eyed leader of the Taliban’. You can see him in the photo above, one of only a handful that exist, his right eye just a socket. But how did he lose his eye?
I’ve been doing some interviews for what I’m calling my idealistic oral history project – a history of Kandahar from 1966-2001 from the mouths of the people who shaped events. Lots of mujahideen commanders form the basis of these interviewees, and two of them happened to be there at the battle of Sangisar, just as the Soviets were leaving Afghanistan, in which Mullah Omar lost his eye.

So shall we begin?
One of my interviewees, let’s call him Rahmat, was on his way to Sangisar from battles elsewhere in Kandahar province. Mullah Omar was living in Hajji Ibrahim Qala at the time, a sort of house/fort, with some of his friends and fellow mujahideen.
Let’s not forget, too, that the Taliban existed as a mujahideen force before 1994. It’s a topic worthy of a separate blog post, but just remember that Mullahs and ‘Taliban’ (as in ‘students’) formed a significant part of the mujahideen fighting force in Kandahar province throughout the 1980s.

So all the mujahideen from Maiwand and Panjwayi districts arrived in Sangisar for a ‘big fight’. It was just as the Russians were leaving the south as part of their ultimate withdrawal from Afghanistan, and so the mujahideen had come to take a final shot at the departing convoys of soldiers and supplies.
Planes started bombing the area in preparation for the convoy’s passing through. Mullah Omar had left Hajji Ibrahim Qala some 10 minutes before the bombing started, and when all the fighters poured out of their houses in the midst of the bombing near Ibrahim Mosque, they encountered Mullah Omar coming back, blood seeping from his eye.

He explained how he’d been crouched by a wall when a number of bombs were falling on the other side of the wall. He had looked round the edge of the wall – just peering round with one eye – when a piece of shrapnel from the blast struck him in his eye.
The mujahideen sent Mullah Omar to doctors in Nelgham (a nearby frontline), but he apparently wouldn’t leave. My second interviewee, let’s call him Takre, told of how Mullah Omar stuck a bandage on his eye socket and pleaded with the other fighters to allow him to continue fighting.

After that day, the mujahideen moved on to the final battles in Pashmol and Arghandab, but Mullah Omar was excluded from the Pashmol fight. Here’s a photo of Mullah Omar from when he was young, when he had both eyes:

By Alex Strick van Linschoten

Alex Strick van Linschoten is travelling in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and the north Caucasus over the next 4 years for a book on sufism. He lives in Kandahar, but moves around a lot.

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