Qari Ahmadullah was at the top of the list of Taliban targets in the American invasion of Afghanistan. Though he is widely reported to have been killed in a U.S. air strike in eastern Afghanistan twelve years ago, rumors that he is alive have persisted. As recently as May 2012, the CIA’s former deputy counterterrorism chief, Henry Crumpton, declared Ahmadullah unequivocally dead in his book, going so far as to detail the supposed operation that killed him. Like Crumpton, a cousin of Ahmadullah’s imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay believes him to be “under the grave.” In the January issue of Harper’s Magazine, Mujib Mashal, an American-educated reporter who grew up in Kabul under the Taliban’s rule, makes the case that Ahmadullah is indeed among the living.
Mashal speaks to Ahmadullah’s brother, Mawlawi Naeem, who contradicts a 2002 Associated Press report on the spymaster’s burial. “Funeral?” he tells Mashal. “Many funerals may have taken place, but none for Ahmadullah. If there was a funeral, shouldn’t we have been the ones putting him to rest?” Mashal is convinced that Naeem consulted with his brother before their interview.
“What is less clear is whether Ahmadullah intentionally faked his death in 2001 or merely got lucky,” Mashal writes. He reports that in his final interview, with the Christian Science Monitor, Ahmadullah essentially gave his planned itinerary, prompting the newspaper’s editors to insert a disclaimer: “[I]t is impossible to know the intelligence chief’s motives for meeting and talking to a reporter.” Mashal writes: “Perhaps he was betting that the American military would accommodate him with a plausibly deadly explosion and a hasty claim of mission accomplished, allowing him to slip away, as many other Taliban leaders did, into Pakistan.”
“Perhaps Ahmadullah no longer feels that his life is at risk,” Mashal concludes. “Still, if Ahmadullah, who is no older than forty-seven, has any hope of playing a role in Afghanistan’s future, he will have to emerge at some point from ‘under the grave.’ ”