‘I’m Sick and Tired of Bloodshed’

But Abdul Haq died a violent death at the hands of the Taliban

IMG: Abdul Haq
The Lion of Peshawar NEWSWEEK

Oct. 27 —  Legendary Afghan commander Abdul Haq, who was killed by a Taliban executioner last week, had seen his share of danger. Haq had been wounded more than a dozen times in battles against Soviet invaders, and lost his right foot after stepping on a land mine in 1987. Three years ago, his wife, 11-year-old son and a bodyguard died at the hands of mysterious assassins. He had been the most Western-friendly of Afghanistan’s “Magnificent Seven”—the seven original mujahedin leaders who fought the Russians from 1979 to 1989. For much of the past decade he had lived in exile in Dubai. But when the Pakistan government reversed its pro-Taliban policies and threw its support behind the U.S.-led anti-terrorist coalition, Haq quickly came home to Peshawar to prepare for a regime change in Kabul.

 LITTLE MORE THAN A WEEK before his ill-fated “peace mission” into Afghanistan, which ended in his capture and death, Haq spoke to NEWSWEEK’s Melinda Liu at his home. Excerpts:
       What prompted you to come back now?

       Abdul Haq: After the mujahedin took power in 1992, I didn’t want to take part in the destruction of Afghanistan. We were headed for civil war, Afghans would be killing Afghans. I tried to stop it and I realized I could not. So I walked away…. I had started a job but didn’t finish it. So I came back to finish the job.
       What role do you see for yourself?
       Being a commander, with a military background, I can play a role. But I don’t mean to be selfish. So many countries, even superpowers, have failed to solve the problems of Afghanistan. I’m not coming to say I can do it. No one can do it alone. We need teamwork.
       Why has there been no unity in the opposition up to now?
       [In 1992] we won the war militarily but failed politically. Before Sept. 11 there was a lack of united leadership to bring various tribes together. Now, after the former King has stated he’ll return home, that helps us solve this problem. We can begin a national process, not based on ethnic groupings. Maybe now we can complete the job.
       How will you start?

       We’ve already tried to talk sense to the Taliban leadership. It’s impossible to change their minds. So I’m going to the second level, to the division commanders and corps commanders. I’m saying to them, ‘Okay, the leadership is crazy. Why don’t you and us and other tribes come together and work together?’ As a commander I’m sick and tired of bloodshed.
       Can you win over Taliban representatives?
       More than 50 percent are willing to accept a new government if they can be part of the process and if the Northern Alliance is not allowed to take power. They want the security to live as normal human beings. Most of the former mujahedin commanders who are with the Taliban, plus many Taliban commanders, are not happy with the leadership but also fear the Northern Alliance. They fear revenge killings if the Northern Alliance takes over. So we’ll give them another option.
       What’s your reaction to the American airstrikes?

      I’ve been arguing with Americans, saying ‘Look, we’re working on a solution. We’re close. We can do it without such losses.’ Taliban support was going down. But now sympathy for the Taliban is growing because people feel ‘What did I do wrong?’
       Do you blame the presence of alleged Arab terrorists for Afghanistan’s plight?
       Why are the Arabs here? The U.S. brought the Arabs to Pakistan and Afghanistan [during the Soviet war]. Washington gave them money, gave them training, and created ten or 15 different fighting groups. The U.S. and Pakistan worked together. The minute the pro-Communist regime collapsed, the Americans walked away—and didn’t even clean up their shit. They brought this problem to Afghanistan.
       Have you told U.S. officials how you feel?
       I’m trying to talk to the White House to say shooting is not the solution. I did tell someone [in the U.S.] that if you hadn’t bombed for two more weeks maybe there would have been no need to bomb. We could’ve had a solution. But Washington went ahead to satisfy the American public. And Afghanistan has to lose hundreds of lives. Afghan blood is cheaper than anything.
       Who did you talk to?
       I’ve talked on the phone to [Reagan-era National Security Adviser] Bud McFarlane; I knew him from then. But we don’t have that much contact now.
       What is your relationship to the former Afghan king, Zahir Shah?

      The former king wants to come back. I met Zahir Shah several times in recent months in Rome, the last time two-and-a-half weeks ago. He said he’s willing to sacrifice. He’s 86-years-old, but we need a fatherly figure. We need him to pull the country together.
       Are you trying to get Taliban commanders to defect?
       We won’t encourage them to defect. We say ‘Just stay there so we can use you. If you defect you’re no use.’ We plan to move in with our own commanders, with Taliban commanders, with tribal representatives. We’ll just take down the Taliban flag and put up our own flag. Still, soldiers and officials are already defecting to their homes, to their own camps; they’re leaving in the thousands.
       Afghans believe you’re a bagman for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Are you getting money from the American government?
       The U.S. government is not providing any resources. And for individuals to get resources is not good. We need cooperation with Rome and the former king. It’s not good to give money to individual people; it needs to be part of a package. Whenever people talk of war, they need money. But it’s better to proceed in an organized fashion, not just through individual corruption. We don’t need weapons and guns. In southern Afghanistan we already have enough arms.