(Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday he would guarantee the safety of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar if he wanted to talk peace to end the hardline Islamist group’s intensifying insurgency.
Karzai’s statement runs counter to the Pentagon’s position, last expressed in late October, that the Taliban leader, should not be involved in any reconciliation efforts.
Here are some facts on Mullah Muhammad Omar.
* Most reports have it that Omar, an ethnic Pashtun, was born into an impoverished family in the town of Nodeh in Afghanistan’s southern Uruzgan province, some time between 1959 and 1962. After studying at several Islamic schools, he emerged as a Muslim cleric.
* Given the title “Mullah” or “one who gives,” he called himself a “Talib” -- “one who seeks” -- as he never finished his studies. After the Soviet occupation in the 1980s he joined the jihad, or holy war, and was appointed a commander of the anti-Soviet Mujahideen guerrillas, losing his right eye to shrapnel in fighting.
* In 1996 Omar was named the Amir-Ul Momenin, commander of the faithful, by a group of Islamic scholars made up of Taliban -- the once ragtag group of fighters that he helped found in 1994 ostensibly to combat post-war lawlessness. He effectively ruled Afghanistan from his base in Kandahar, rather than the capital Kabul, for five years. In 2001 his refusal to surrender the fugitive Osama bin Laden to the United States led to U.S-backed attacks that toppled the Taliban.
* Accused by the U.S. Department of State of sheltering bin Laden and the al Qaeda network before the September 11 attacks, Mullah Omar has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head. Afghanistan’s post-Taliban leader Karzai, facing re-election next year, has however made several calls for him to help make peace.
* Few photographs exist of the tall, bearded, Omar. Several statements attributed to him have been released over the years, but there have not been any reported sightings. As with Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders, he is believed to be in hiding in mountainous areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Sources: Reuters, Chambers Biographical Dictionary