Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Hamid Karzai, Najibullah’s Ghost, and the Gold of Bactria


Do not be naïve about what you are facing. They will bring a destruction you cannot imagine.

In the opinion of America’s counterinsurgency boffins, there are no bad doctrines—only bad clients.

Unsurprisingly, the Obama administration’s response to the rather dire situation in Afghanistan is to blame ineffectual and corrupt governance, rather than NATO’s hitherto halfassed and under-manned campaign against the ferocious Taliban.

The United States’ desire to give Hamid Karzai the boot has been unambiguously conveyed and much will no doubt be made of the electoral shenanigans Karzai apparently committed in the recent presidential elections.

Whether the United States really believes that its favored candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik, will emerge as savior of the NATO enterprise, or Karzai is simply being eased out so Gulbuddin Hekmatyar or someone like him can be lured out of the insurgency and into the central government as the indispensable Pashtun strongman remains to be seen.

In any case, I don’t share the easy contempt and condescension so many observers express for Hamid Karzai, the “mayor of Kabul”.

Karzai’s father, a leading Pashtun political figure, was murdered by Taliban assassins when he started to organize opposition to Taliban rule. After 9/11, Karzai recklessly entered Afghanistan with a handful of followers; instead of being welcomed with flowers, collecting a swelling train of followers, and leading a triumphal procession into Kabul a la Napoleon's 100 days, he became the target of a Taliban manhunt and barely and ignominiously escaped back into Pakistan.

On his second trip in, Karzai was under direct U.S. sponsorship. In a moment of what he probably considers bizarre symbolism, Karzai narrowly escaped death from a misdirected American airstrike while talking face to face with his CIA liaison.

As president, Karzai’s continual efforts to slip the U.S. leash, build alliances with warlords and tribes outside the core of the Taliban, and ignore the diktats of the ever-infallible Zalmay Khalilzad—the Afghan-borne supremo of America's Central Asian foreign policy who midwifed the creation of compromised, unpopular bourgeois pro-U.S. regimes from Baghdad to Islamabad and reportedly covets the presidency of Afghanistan for himself—seemed to reflect an understanding that a regime that relied on U.S. backing rather than local power had no future.

As he stands revealed as a superfluous great power client and embodiment of unpalatable on-the-ground realities, Karzai probably also remembers the fate of Muhammad Najibullah, who was the last president of the Soviet-backed Republic of Afghanistan.

When the Taliban entered Kabul in 1996, they dragged Najibullah from UNICEF compound where he had taken refuge three years before when a deal to extract him from Kabul collapsed, tortured him for hours with the special ingenuity that Afghani warlords apparently can always bring to bear on such situations, and hung his castrated corpse from a lamppost.

Najibullah is routinely reviled as a despot and a torturer.

Like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Najibullah stood for secularist, socialist, and pro-Soviet policies that suppressed Islamic fundamentalism with extreme violence and a certain degree of success. Like Hussein, Najibullah was destroyed by the United States, with rather grisly consequences for his nation.

Najibullah was well-educated, and perfected his English during his years of confinement in Kabul. A career UNICEF official, Alan Brady, came to Kabul just before the city fell to the Taliban, and wrote an eerie, evocative account in the Virginia Quarterly Review of a call he paid on the fallen dictator in 1995 shortly before his death.

During the two years I was working in Afghanistan, I had become fascinated by the story of Najibullah. Here was a man of great intellect, educated as a doctor and pediatrician to “do no harm.” He was at the same time a political activist who received training in the Soviet Union. In 1981, he returned to Afghanistan to head the KHAD, a Secret Police organization notorious for torture and executions. Five years later, he emerged as president of his country during times of vicious conflict. Undoubtedly, there was blood on his hands.

Yet many people described him as enlightened. My colleagues who had worked with the Najibullah government from 1986 to 1992 spoke highly of his leadership and support for the country’s social development, especially public health and education. It was an anomaly, throughout the 1980s, that the West was empowering mujahideen groups who were burning down schools, banning girls from being educated, trying to cut women off from basic opportunities or even health care, and preaching ideologies of xenophobic hatred. The CIA and others did all of this in the interest of bringing down a government that, in the areas of social development at least, stood for secular and progressive Western values. The fight against Communism made for many strange bedfellows for more than four decades, perhaps nowhere more so than in Afghanistan.

For a long time, I had harbored a curiosity about Najibullah and what changes might have occurred in him as he sat in that UN house in Kabul with nothing to do except read and reflect. Did such reflection give him second thoughts about the life he had lived and the things he had done? …

To say that this man was pleased and charmed by our arrival would be a grave understatement…Before I knew it, each time he spoke, he would start with the words, “dear Alan.” Over many cups of tea, sitting together on the couch, sharing chocolates from the newly opened box on the table before us, he spoke honestly and freely about what he had been going through, and then his complaints about the UN and how it had betrayed him.

At last I got up the courage to ask the questions that were on my mind. It is not an easy subject to broach, this question of his role as head of KHAD and the blood he must have had on his hands…

I could see the look in his eye change as my question sank in… Like the flexing of a relaxed muscle, the power and charisma at the core of this man reappeared in sharp relief, and with a loud shout of “NO!” his fist came down with an explosive sound on the table before us, sending teacups flying upward.

“Dear Alan,” he was saying. “Do not be naïve about what you are facing. They will bring a destruction you cannot imagine.”

His message to me, at our New Year meeting in 1995, was one of no regrets for whatever he had done to stand against the Islamists. He was absolutely clear about that; he would do it again.

In the quiet of that evening, he laid out for us what the lines of conflict would be, in a world where Communism was finished. “After the fall of the Berlin Wall,” he said, “I wrote to Bush. I explained all of this, I told him that the Reds are finished, and the enemy of the United States is no longer the Reds, it is the Greens. I offered to work together with him.”

The “green” that Najibullah was referring to was the green flag of the Islamists, and the Bush he wrote to was the first President Bush—George H.W. He never received an answer.


The secularist Najibullah was probably responsible for saving the “Bactrian Hoard”-- a collection of 20,000 gold artifacts from Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past that dated to before the Common Era and symbolized the country's traditional role as the crossroads of Central Asia--from looters and the Taliban.

The trove was discovered by Soviet archaeologists in six burial mounds of Bactrian nomads in northern Afghanistan.

When the Taliban approached and Afghanistan fell into chaos, Najibullah apparently arranged for the treasures to be removed from the Kabul Museum and hidden in the vaults of the National Bank of Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai eventually assisted in effecting their rediscovery.

Wikipedia tells the story:

The doors of the vault were locked with seven keys which were distributed to trusted individuals who were based abroad. The vault, which could only be opened if all the keys were available, provided security to the Bactrian Hoard, protecting it on numerous occasions from attempts by the Taliban to steal it. During the invasion of Afghanistan by American forces, the Taliban, who were unaware that all seven keys were needed in order to open the vault, made one last attempt to get their hands on the treasure by planting bombs on the vault door. Before they could detonate the bombs, American troops arrived at the central bank and the militants were forced to flee…

In 2003, after the Taliban was successfully defeated, the new government wanted to open the vault, but the keyholders (called "tawadars") could not be summoned because their names were purposefully unknown. Hamid Karzai had to issue a decree authorizing the attorney general to go ahead with safecracking. But in time, the seven key-holders were successfully assembled and the vault opened.


An exhibition of the Bactrian artifacts is currently touring the United States. It will finish up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on September 20, 2009.

National Geographic’s website has further information and a photo gallery of some of the artifacts.

As Karzai is surrounded by his American advisers and Afghan enemies, I expect he also reflects on the fate of Afghanistan’s previous secular ruler, the pervasive violence, destruction, and intolerance that seem impossible to escape, worries about the non-stop battering that his nation and the Afghan people and society are enduring, and wonders what kind of legacy he might leave his country.

Image of Bactrian artifact from website of Embassy of Afghanistan, Washington

10 comments:

IMCurtain said...

Lovely post! Dropping by. Have a nice day!

p/s: We would like to invite all of you to join our blogging community which helps you to get more visitors to your blogs. It's totally free and you get the chance to meet other celebrity bloggers. Visit us at Free Blog Traffic

derekt said...

You may well be right about Karzai wanting to break free from his US "minders". But how do you explain away his patronage, suspected financial shenanigans and - especially - the disenchantment of fellow Pashtun? Pashtun leaders were said to be so outraged by Karzai's antics that they were willing to invite their followers to vote for a non-Pashtun candidate.

Rabia said...

that's a very interesting comparison with Najibullah. What's always amazed me about his regime was how long it outlived the Soviet withdrawal despite the best efforts of Hamid Gul, Hekmatyar et al.

uwanna said...

gucci replica handbags
men gucci shoes
Gucci men sneakers
Gucci men moccasins
gucci women sneakers
gucci women boots
Gucci men boots
Gucci
Gucci shop
Gucci bags
Gucci shoes
Replica GUCCI SHOES
wholesale gucci shoes
cheap Gucci handbags
Gucci ON sale
Gucci Belts
Gucci small accessories
Gucci hats & scarves
Gucci wallets
Gucci Handbags
Women Gucci shoes
Men Gucci shoes
discount gucci shoes
cheap Gucci shoes

happyoutlet said...

Nike SB Dunks
?Regardless of the quality of the technology implemented by these devices, plenty of people do not understand the situation

Nike Free 5.0 Womens
With these shoes, it's important to change not witnessed on the road or really feel

vibram five fingers clearance
A typical human foot is one of the anatomy associated with 26 bones, Thirty three joints, 20 muscle tissue and admire the particular hundreds of sensory receptors, muscles and ligaments

Nike Free 5.0 Mens
Reported by physicians, nervous, harmful to your home emotions

These shoes have outstanding grip, comfort and suppleness make it a favorite among the extreme riders

vibram five fingers shoes cheap

dsadf said...

iabaratti, like the majority of men about the excursion, driven for you to San Felipe with regards to 230 mile after mile (354 km's) to the south with the national boundaries city of Tijuana all over Nike Air Max through HillcrestIn stated within a quick record e-mailed towards the Linked MediaDALVAY BY-THE-SEA, Prince Edward Area (AP) Prince Bill enjoyed showing his or her army heli-copter instruction with his first-ever h2o landing Saturday to the Air Max 2011 pleasure involving nervous throngs in Canada, exactly where he / she with his fantastic better half, Kate, have been getting their first recognized international excursion considering that the weddingYour woman spoke to him quickly by simply Ed Hardy Shop cellular phone and also claimed he or she pointed out some thing about a electrical surpriseYour vessel capsized a lot less than 3 mls (Three kms) coming from shore, even so the fast extensive it is Discount Burberry Cheap look for 58 a long way (One hundred kilometers) further into your west coast of florida after Saturday after searching the spot by helicopter and airline in addition to obtaining absolutely nothing, Pineda explained Benjamin Pineda Ed Hardy Shop Gomez explained he simply no identify or even specifics of the guy who past awayExxon Mobil has projected of which approximately Just one,000 casks, or maybe 49,000 gallons, connected with crude oil poured Exclusive previous night Nike Air Jordan Cheap your move in the destroyed pipe ended up being quit But temperatures reached the particular mid-90s Wednesday, inducing the melt connected with off-road snow in order to speed up"They shed almost everything,Inch she said, such as air jordan clearance car keys

A.J. Jacksoon said...

Uncover not by the side of home how that achieve a swap phone search otherwise a telephone lookup or else still a phone reverse phone lookup lookup lookup so as soon as to discover not in who is bringing up the rear so at what time to character with the intention of has been calling you this full moment in time ok.

educationalbabytoys said...

Reverse cellular phone lookup sites reminiscent of this single will give you both kinds of mobile phone lookup facts so to you be capable of finally come across not at home their name, address, where they be present, reverse phone lookup their current age with to a stately extent supplementary. So what time you want with the intention of squander a mobile phone number search in our day, merely act convinced that expend this cooperative tool with the intention of uncover not at home every kinds of annul cell phone lookup details losing to facilitate character in the present day.

peoplereverse said...

I enjoy this nice change cell phone lookup before phone search before telephone number search spot. I be capable of be taught to a excellent extent of cell phone lookup things in relation to swap cell phone search here today at what time I checkered not in this guide here.

reverse1011 said...

Use up this telephone lookup place that hit upon out cell phone lookup is down this mysterious phone number you have questions regarding. As well as at the moment you know how to pay out the equal phone lookup with the purpose of get individuals answers prepared used for you today quickly plus easily.