When the Taliban entered Kabul in 1996, they dragged Muhammad 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.
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.