Round Table Discussion
“A Conversation with Ms. Bette Dam, author of Looking for the Enemy: Mullah Omar and the Unknown Taliban”
May 30, 2023
The Centre for Afghanistan, Middle East & Africa (CAMEA) at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) organized ‘A Conversation with Ms. Bette Dam, author of Looking for the Enemy: Mullah Omar and the Unknown Taliban. Diplomats, academics and students attended the event.
During her introductory remarks, Ms. Amina Khan, Director of CAMEA, highlighted the distinctiveness of Ms. Dam’s work as a Western author, offering a fresh perspective on the subject matter. She emphasized that Ms. Dam’s nuanced approach of exploring all sides of the story contributes to a comprehensive and unbiased analysis, enabling readers to gain deeper insights into complex issues. Ms. Khan noted that this ability to embrace different viewpoints enhances the resonance and relevance of Ms. Dam’s writing in the region.
DG ISSI, Ambassador Sohail Mahmood, delivered welcome remarks. He appreciated Ms. Dam’s work, stating that her work had helped demystify many aspects of Mullah Omer’s life and mission which had remained shrouded in mystery. In particular, her research had provided fresh perspective on the indigenous origins of the Taliban movement, factors for its rise in the peculiar circumstances of the civil war-ridden Afghanistan of the mid-1990s, the handling of 9/11 and its aftermaths by Taliban leadership, the troubled relationship between Mullah Omar and Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and the last days of Mullah Omar and his demise in Afghanistan. He stated that Ms Dam’s work is a comprehensive and independent analysis that allows readers to gain profound insights into the complexities of the issues at hand. He expressed the hope that this book would inspire more scholars to further pursue the themes Ms. Bette Dam had highlighted.
Ms. Bette Dam gave a brief presentation on her journey as an investigative journalist in particular.
During the discussion, Ms. Bette Dam highlighted the extensive research that had been undertaken to delve into the intricacies of Mullah Omar’s life, encompassing his upbringing, formative years, development as a leader, the inception of the Taliban movement, and the final moments of his life. Ms. Bette Dam also talked about Mullah Omar’s perspective on the Taliban, revealing that he viewed the group as a neutral peacekeeping force with the intention to halt the ongoing conflict and chaos in Afghanistan. Contrary to prevailing beliefs, as highlighted in her book, Ms. Bette Dam challenged the narrative by emphasizing that Mullah Omar, the former Taliban leader, remained in Afghanistan until his death, refuting the misconception that he died in Pakistan. Ms. Dam went on to assert that the realities surrounding Afghanistan have been distorted by Western media’s narrative. She stressed that the complete picture is rarely presented, suggesting that a more comprehensive understanding is necessary to grasp the complexities of the situation.
During her discourse, Ms. Bette Dam shed light on the dominance of the Western narrative in media coverage, noting that this perspective has influenced approximately 80 percent of the portrayal. She emphasized the need for a more balanced and nuanced approach, as the media has tended to focus on violence and portrayed only one side of the story. Ms. Dam also revealed that in 2001, the Taliban had written surrender letters to the then-Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, which were unfortunately dismissed and thus an important opportunity for peace was conceivably lost. Furthermore, she highlighted that the refusal by Rumsfeld, the United States Secretary of Defense at the time, played a significant role in the subsequent unfolding of events.
Her remarks were followed by an interactive discussion. The participants’ comments focused on her key findings as well as problems related to the dominance of the Western narrative and the difficulties it posed for objective journalistic reporting.