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A different view of the Afghan war

Khaled Ahmed


r e v i e w s

An Italian student of the Afghan war has tried looking at the events that unfolded between 1978 and 1992 from the perspective of the PDPA regime (using Soviet sources) that ruled in Kabul after the Saur Revolution and was propped up by the Soviet Union. As the famous expert on the region, British scholar Yapp, observes on the flap of the book, the angle of inquiry reveals aspects of the Afghan that are hidden to us in the murk of Pakistani and Western propaganda. Going back to the heady days when all was fair in war, one can recall the profile of Najibullah done by a British paper: he was supposed to be a habitual womaniser who kept 21 women to satisfy his undying lust and raped two women every night to demonstrate his power to the people he ruled, like Gilgamesh. After Najibullah was done to death most crudely by the Taliban as their first of the many deeds that put the world off and forced it to invade Afghanistan, the Western media retooled the profile and showed Najibullah as a man who should have been saved from the savage wrath of the Taliban. Had they stuck to the earlier profile, Najibullah's death wouldn't have moved the world the way it did. This book shows how he took over from Babrak Karmal and almost pacified the country after inflicting reversals on the American-supported ISI and its graft-ridden officers.

The event that Pakistanis would rather not examine was the defeat of the mujahideen at the hands of Najibullah's troops at Jalalabad in 1989, mostly because such an analysis would undermine the career of General Hamid Gul as an adventurer politician held up by the partisan froth of the Urdu columnist.

But the truth is that the victory at Jalalabad allowed Najibullah to offer pacification and national reconciliation to the enemies of the PDPA. There was some doubt in the minds of the leaders in Moscow about how successful the pacification effort would be. They wanted PDPA to share power in some manner with the mujahideen. Not all the mujahideen were in love with Pakistan and would have joined the PDPA coalition if power-sharing was sincerely offered. In fact, Moscow thought that such a deal should be offered, but Najibullah was a local warlord scared of letting go of the power he had used quite brutally against the mujahideen and the Afghan populations known to collaborate with them.

But the aftermath of Jalalabad was quite encouraging to the PDPA. The total number of people busy fighting the jehad against the PDPA went down from 85,000 to 50,000 within one tear by the end of 1989. Eighty percent of the fighters had turned away from war and over 20 percent of the mujahideen leaders had made overt or covert peace with the PDPA regime. BY the end of Najibullah's rule the number of commanders who had made peace with Najibullah would rise to 40 percent. This figure tells a story that is totally at variance with the one told us by the ISI which must have become upset with what Najibullah had achieved. Had it not been for the American support and further infusion of dollars into the mujahideen, the trend would have led to some pacification and perpetuation of the PDPA rule. A year earlier in 1988 when the province of Kunar fell to the mujahideen, almost 5,000 people fled to Nangrahar because they were pro-PDPA. The book estimates, on the basis of survey, that fully 50 percent of the population of Kunar was not alienated from the regime.

Pacification was based on the policy of letting villages and towns under PDPA control to rule themselves. The people 'freed' from the tough regime of control were supposed to feel good about the PDPA and accept it as a legitimate government. This was a signal for the offer of national reconciliation. The rector of Kabul University was made to announce that Afghanistan had officially abandoned marxism as state ideology and the mujahideen were offered a number of portfolios in the government if they came in from the cold. The name of the PDPA was changed to Hezb-e-Watan to please the common man. Najibullah stopped referring to the Saur Revolution and was heard saying that the entry of the Soviet troops had not helped the government's cause. One faction Hizbullah of Faryab (not the one located in Iran) signed an agreement with Najibullah during this period of national reconciliation. Najibullah legalised Rabbani's Jamiat, the biggest party in jehad, after a few ceasefires agreed by the two. Unfortunately the splitting tendency of the PDPA grew apace. It had earlier bifurcated into Khalq and Parcham, but now the Parcham was ready to split among the die-hard purists of the party and those who kept changing. Najibullah employed the method Afghans are familiar with in their history. He arrested the partymen who criticised him in a plenary session. The attempt at reconciliation failed, according to a Soviet estimate, because Najibullah was never serious about sharing power with the opposition. He was resolute in seeking to become a despot who would not be embarrassed by any opposition. He was instinctively a man who enjoyed the use of power - and he was encouraged in this by the lack of success of the ISI and the mujahideen. For instance, in Nangrahar-Jalalabad he appointed a Shinwari the governor of the province after he had quarrelled with Hekmatyar as a member of the Hizb. The tribe did not think that this was a comedown for them. In fact, they thought that the appointment had brought power to their tribe.

The author says that the Afghan crisis grew in part out of the tendency of the neighbouring patron states to either split their clients to enjoy better control over them or switch their patronage between parties too often. This moulded the character of such warlords as Dostam who sniffed the wind and decided whom he would work for every now and then. Najibullah got a bad name because of Dostam's Jawzjanis treating the population of Kandahar with great savagery; and Najibullah was caught and murdered by the Taliban after Dostam deserted him.