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Ahmadullah is one of Omar's most trusted men. A mullah from the southern city of Ghanzi, he was a military commander with a string of conquests before Omar anointed him head of intelligence. He is one of the cooler heads in the ruling Taliban council. Relief workers who dealt with him as governor of the northern Takhar province say Ahmadullah allowed food convoys into famine-struck areas held by the Northern Alliance, knowing that full stomachs might earn some gratitude beyond enemy lines.
Within Afghanistan, Ahmadullah's men uncovered two plots in Mazar-i-Sharif by commanders to overthrow the Taliban. The security services also discovered a band of opposition bombers in Kabul. Death was swift in both cases. The accused were strung up at a crossroads in warning to all who would defy the Taliban.
The Taliban's reach extends into Pakistan. Haq accused the Taliban of murdering his wife and son in 1999 at their Peshawar home. Karzai suspects the Taliban of assassinating his father, a noted Afghan parliamentarian, in Quetta two years ago. Pakistan's military intelligence, known as the ISI, has long aided the Taliban--and, sources say, some agents are doing so still. "You're asking the ISI to change loyalties at the flick of a switch. It's not that easy," says an Arab diplomat.
Can the Taliban's spy network be beaten? Many Afghans say they're willing to try. Says one Western diplomat in Peshawar: "They're lining up, saying, 'Give us money and sat-phones and we'll deliver bin Laden and Mullah Omar.' But it's a long way before those promises come true."
--With reporting by Rahimullah Yusufzai/Kandahar and Mark Thompson/Washington