Hamid Mir, the editor of the conservative Pakistani newspaper Ausaf, has published interviews with Shimon Peres, Nelson Mandela and Yasser Arafat. But he is known mostly for writing a 300 page biography of Osama bin Laden, which the accused terrorist approved for publication in March of 2001, and which Mir hopes to publish next month. The editor got to know bin Laden during two visits to Afghanistan in 1997 and 1998, totaling seven days and six nights, and they have communicated since then through envoys.

Mir first made contact with representatives of bin Laden in February of 1997. After publishing an interview with Mullah Mohammed Omar, a "shadowy Algerian" made personal contact with Mir and asked why he wasn't writing about Osama. Mir said he would if he could meet the man, and this was arranged. The editor and his photographer were switched from vehicle to vehicle until they made their way to Pakistan's northwest border. They crossed the border on foot over a hidden trail (without coming to a checkpoint), were picked up by a jeep, transferred to another jeep, and finally found themselves in a valley with lights and security guards crowding around a cave. They were searched thoroughly, escorted into the cave, and served tea. Bin Laden arrived an hour later, armed with several guns and accompanied by a full troupe of guards.

According to Mir, bin Laden "then began telling me all the secrets of my life. He read out my bank account number, my national ID card, my in-laws' home phone number. He was conveying to me that 'I know many things about you, and if you betray me, the consequences are very serious.'"

While we probably won't know what went on in the two meetings until and if Mir's biography is published, we do know several facts that he has already made public. Mir is the conduit through whom bin Laden took credit for the killing of 18 US soldiers in Somalia, saying, "It was war. They killed our people and we killed their people." He said nothing when Mir asked him about involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole, and regarding other acts he has been accused of, including September 11, says only that he "praises" those who performed them. Mir also stated this week that he asked bin Laden about Russian media reports that he helped the Taliban acquire chemical and nuclear weapons from arsenals stolen after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. "He didn't confirm or deny," Mir said. "He told me that if America has the right to have these weapons, then the Taliban have the right as well - and to get them however they can."

Of course, as noted above, Mir is the editor of a major Pakistani newspaper, and has a lot more on his hands than Osama bin Laden. Within Pakistan, he is known principally for taking a hard-line stance on the conflict in the Kashmir, a position that is supported by common Pakistanis but not by the ruling class. In this respect he hews to the grand tradition of American columnists like Damon Runyon, Jimmy Breslin and Mike Royko, who had to appeal to those who bought the paper. This is perhaps the reason that Ausaf has fallen victim to the same government restrictions on the press as other Pakistani media outlets. In 1999, after Jang, the largest newspaper in the country, was banned by the government then in power, Ausaf was suspected of selling them copy that they were forbidden to buy on the open market, and even printing their paper. Shortly afterward, an Ausaf van carrying copies of the paper to the town of Attock was pulled over by agents of Pakistan's Federal Information Agency, the staff inside it were beaten, and copies of the paper were confiscated. The new government, led by General Pervez Musharraf, is ideologically closer to Mir and Ausaf, but under pressure to toe the U.S. line, it will be interesting to see what develops.

As for the biography, bin Laden has chosen the name "I Am Not a Terrorist," while Mir prefers "The Story of Osama." If bin Laden lives, Mir says, he will use his own title, but if he is killed he "will keep his title out of respect to a dead person's wishes." His personal opinion of bin Laden is that "he is not only a threat to America and the West, he is a threat to real Islam," because he endorses killing civilians. "I hope he will not be angry with me."

sources: Boston Globe interview published September 26, 2001

further reading: www.rediff.com/news/2001/jul/13inter.htm (an interview with Mir regarding Musharraf and the Kashmir)

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