The Taliban Story: Life with Taliban: An insider’s first-hand account
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By Arun Anand

This is the 12th part of the 30-part series on ‘The Taliban Story’ that we bring to our readers. You can share your feedback at [email protected]. Here is the 12th part:

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef was born at Kandahar in 1968. He was one of the founders of the Taliban and a close lieutenant of its first chief Mullah Mohammad Omar. He was appointed to the most crucial position of Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan before the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 in wake of the 9/11 attack. He also held the portfolios of deputy minister at the Mines and Industries Ministry as well as administrative director of the Defence Ministry of Afghanistan during the first Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001.

He has shared a riveting first person account of how Taliban ran Afghanistan as a country in his autobiographical work, “My Life with The Taliban” which was originally written in Pashto and later translated into English.

Nick Meo wrote about this book in Sunday Telegraph, “Abdul Salam Zaeef was a founder of the Taliban and his memoirs…offers a fascinating if dispiriting insight into the movement.”

Mullah Zaeef recalled in his memoirs which were published first in 2010:

“Kabul had fallen to the Taliban and Mullah Saheb Amir ul-Mu’mineen wanted me to become the administrative director of the National Defence Ministry. He wrote a letter of official appointment for me, and even though I no longer wanted to work for the government, I could not turn him down.

I had taken an oath in Sangisar to follow and stand by him, so if he needed me in Kabul then I would go. I gathered a few belongings, said goodbye to my family and left for Kabul. The Taliban had reached the capital while I was in Herat and by the time, I arrived Mullahs Mohammad Rabbani and Abdul Razaq had already secured the city, putting an end to the fighting between the Hizb-e Islami commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Massoud. Like many of my colleagues in the Taliban, it was the first time I had visited Kabul.”1

The Taliban Story: Life with Taliban: An insider’s first-hand account
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Mullah Zaeef explains in some detail how the Sharia law was implemented by the Taliban, “The Taliban had also started to implement shari’a law: women were no longer working in government departments and the men throughout the city had started to grow beards….

The fighting in the city had taken its toll, though, and many seemed to suffer psychologically. There was little left of the previous administration: most of the offices were looted and the government departments were in chaos. Parts of the city had been completely destroyed and many of the ministries lay in ruins.”2

“Fortunately, the Ministry of Defence building appeared to be intact. When I first arrived to take up my duties there was still no budget in place and no one knew anything about the ministry’s expenditures. Most of the offices were empty; many of the former officials had had ties with the Northern Alliance and had fled Kabul, and others were unaware that the ministry was working again and did not show up for work.”3

‘It was difficult for me to start work in the middle of such chaos at the same time as trying to settle in a new and unfamiliar city. I had to navigate a minefield of conflicts among ministry officials, but even though I was newto the job it wasn’t long before I was promoted and became the administrative Deputy Defence Minister. This made me responsible for all the financial and logistics affairs of the ministry. On several occasions I was even acting Defence Minister.

When Mullah Obaidullah, the defence minister, was injured in Mir Bacha Kot, a district of Kabul province, and went to Pakistan for treatment, I was the acting minister for a stretch of nine months while Mullah Fazl Akhund the army chief, and his assistants, Mullah Khan Mohammad and Mullah Mohammad Naeem Akhund took care of military affairs.’4

Mullah Zaeef explained how Taliban dealt with the volatile situation even as the fighting continued in several parts of Afghanistan: ‘We designed two budgets for the ministry; the annual budget was funded through the Central Bank and was spent on salary payments, administrative affairs and sometimes transitional dealings in relation to other ministries. The second budget was an independent budget submitted mostly in cash from Kandahar and was used for the consumption and supply of logistics, fuel and other requirements of the military divisions at the front lines. The Taliban forces trapped in Kunduz, for example, were being supplied with fuel and other necessities through airlifts each week. Other fronts closer to Kabul in Tagab and Nejrab up to Laghman, and near Jalrez in Bamiyan, received supplies overland. Until the middle of September 1998 when Bamiyan fell to the Taliban, the weekly budget for the fronts was roughly $300,000. Often, however, the amount that reached us was insufficient and we had to make do with less.’5

Money withdrawals or transfers had to be signed for by the defence ministry, the acting minister and the deputy minister. We implemented this process to track who was receiving money and to ensure transparency in the ministry. Other expenditure—like travel costs, the budget for military intelligence, operational taxes, the logistical costs of some commanders who had an alliance with the Taliban, or charges for the medical care of injured personnel—were all taken from the second budget.6

(To be continued)


  1. My Life with the Taliban by Abdul Salam Zaeef, Hachette India (2016 ed.) (pp-84)
  2. My Life with the Taliban by Abdul Salam Zaeef, Hachette India (2016 ed.) (pp-84)
  3. My Life with the Taliban by Abdul Salam Zaeef, Hachette India (2016 ed.) (pp-84-85)
  4. My Life with the Taliban by Abdul Salam Zaeef, Hachette India (2016 ed.) (pp-85)
  5. 4. My Life with the Taliban by Abdul Salam Zaeef, Hachette India (2016 ed.) (pp-85)
  6. My Life with the Taliban by Abdul Salam Zaeef, Hachette India (2016 ed.) (pp-85)