Afghanistan now & then: 2020 vs. 1990s


Twenty four years after the brutal death of an Afghan president by the Taliban, backed by Pakistani intelligence agency, the country once again stands still at the very same square of history. The insurgents supported by Pakistan have become aggrandized to an extent like never before over the past two decades while the United States, the Afghan government’s strategic ally, has almost turned its back on President Ashraf Ghani-led government. Repeating the 1990s experience, Afghanistan is witnessing peace talks among the warring sides, this time in Doha of Qatar. Just like a recurrence of history, a strong insurgency with cross-border support from Pakistan is at the one end of the table talking to an Afghan government that enjoys the international community’s backing and global recognition.  
Considering the recent history and political developments in the past few decades, Pakistan doesn’t seem to have changed its policy of interfering in Afghanistan and the Taliban still remain intransigent to improve on their fundamentalist ideological thoughts. Anything that happens in Qatar will drastically impact the political and social spectrums in Afghanistan for the next decades.
September 26 marks the gruesome death of Former Afghan President Dr. Mohammad Najibullah at the hands of the Taliban backed by the Pakistani spy agency, the so-called Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in 1996 – a day and macabre that was the outset of the Taliban’s five-year murky rule over Afghanistan.
Once again, with the intra-Afghan talks stuck on hammering out technicalities in Qatar and on-the-ground violence raging unabatedly, Afghanistan has arrived at the same point in the cycle of history. Based on expert opinion, Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan hasn’t changed and the Taliban are following the footsteps of the Mujahideen in terms of their tactics.
Afrasiab Khattak, a Pashtun politician and rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, told OrbandNews that Pakistan’s stance to Talibanize Afghanistan has not altered as the country still aimed at ensuring its hegemony. Khattak described it as a bankrupt policy and a double-edged sword which will ultimately cut Pakistan irreparably as well. “Pakistani generals are still sticking to the old policy,” towards Afghanistan, he believes.
Heela Najibullah, the former President’s daughter, warned that history would keep repeating itself if Afghans remained incognizant of the “same narratives that are being projected, yet again.” She explained that the Taliban were using the same machinations as Mujahideen; the emphasis on the dissolution of some governance structures and the security apparatus, and the use of violence to intimidate and gain power reflected the same circumstances of the 90s.
Responding to a question posed about Dr. Najeeb’s assassination, Heela replied that although reports hinted towards it being Pakistani military’s handiwork, there was no official probe launched to unravel the killing and determine who were behind the act.
Khattak, however, said “Pakistani security personnel were definitely instrumental in his murder,” adding the Taliban’s arrival in Kabul was orchestrated by the Pakistani Army and ISI. At that stage, the Pakistani establishment was the one that “[called] the shots and [took] major decisions,” Khattak believes.
Nevertheless, Heela opined that unlike his late father’s state of affairs, the Afghan government had the advantage of being supported by the international community whereas her father was completely isolated by the international community. Those coupled with the Soviet Union’s dissolution, and both Iran and Pakistan’s strategy to close down trading routes with Najibullah’s administration, were the factors that led to his government’s collapse.
Similarly, in the 1990s, the Afghan Jihadist groups had also blocked all supply routes to Kabul city, causing a severe food shortage for the residents, some of whom starved as well.
Since Najibullah’s brutal killing over two decades back when he was snatched out of the UN compound in Kabul – where he had taken refuge for over four years following his resignation from office – mayhem has hit the country. His ousting and non-implementation of the national reconciliation scheme was a bad omen for the country as civil war broke out, the Taliban emerged and the US invaded Afghanistan subsequently.
Recalling the history, Najibullah fell years after Soviet withdrawal as he was abandoned by his former benefactors in Moscow. A month before his resignation, the former president had forewarned about the issues that might befall and bedevil Afghanistan – surprisingly, most of them became true.
In an interview with the New York Times in March 1992, he appealed to the US to prevent the spread of Islamic Fundamentalism in Afghanistan and Central Asia and added, “We have a common task, Afghanistan, the United States of America, and the civilized world, to launch a joint struggle against fundamentalism.”
Decades ago, he precisely described what would happen to Afghanistan when he stepped down. 
Remarkably, his predictions have become true; terrorism is at its peak in Afghanistan, war has been ongoing since his ousting despite intermittent periods of calm; Afghanistan is among the list of top countries stained by drug smuggling and its production, among others.
Asfandyar Khattak believes the policy of national reconciliation followed by Dr. Najibullah was the right one and is still relevant even after 24 years after his death. The fact that almost everyone turned against him was among the reasons for his fall and the subsequent destruction of the country.
Following the Soviets’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, his former allies turned their backs on Najibullah while the United States along with Afghanistan’s neighboring countries of Pakistan and Iran facilitated the Mujahideen to claim Kabul’s throne.
President Najibullah was rendered in absolute isolation as he fought many Mujahideen groups inside the country and had a war on a global scale with their international backers.
In the hope that the reconciliation would help Mujahideen reintegrate into the normal Afghan society and that foreign backers would cut off their support, he called upon the US and the rest of the western world not to allow Afghanistan become a center of international terrorism and drug trade.
“If fundamentalism comes to Afghanistan, war will continue for many more years, Afghanistan will turn into a center of world smuggling for narcotic drugs. Afghanistan will be turned into a center for terrorism,” the slain president told the American paper. 
Nevertheless, his plea for help went unanswered.
Asked about whether Najibullah could’ve done anything different to avoid such a fate, Khattak said “He did everything humanly possible for achieving peace and reconciliation. Any lesser leader wouldn’t have done what he achieved in the almost impossible situation.”
President Najibullah would constantly reach out to the Mujahideen leaders to make peace, warning of the brutal civil war in Afghanistan and the destruction of the country’s institutions.
Heela said of him that his father “had a clear strategy for peace and [was] managing the process very effectively” but he didn’t have any international backing.
Najibullah’s association with the Soviets had made him a controversial and polarizing figure but he, in his final years, transitioned to an Afghan nationalist and a patriotic leader. He is still seen as one of the leaders in Afghan history who was committed to the country’s integrity and sovereignty. Recently, the younger generations are rediscovering his legacy of courage and patriotism.
Many in Afghanistan still admire Najibullah for his prophetic predictions about the future of Afghanistan. Progressive and patriotic Afghan youth hail Najibullah for his firm stance against the destructive policies followed by Pakistan in Afghanistan. Najibullah’s support among ordinary Afghans and security forces has grown in recent years as his posters are visible in streets and on vehicles without any state sponsorship.
About the exact perpetrators of Najibuallah’s assassination, his daughter referred to a western author’s account of Najibullah’s killing, saying “Peter Thomson in his book, the Wars of Afghanistan, mentions that the ISI was involved in his assassination.” She regretted that an official inquiry into the incident hadn’t been launched to bring clarity and transparency in this regard despite her family’s consistent pleas. 
She said a statement addressed to the UN by her mother in May this year which demanded an investigation into her father’s brutal killing had gone unanswered. “We are still awaiting the next steps towards this investigation,” she told OrbandNews, emphasizing that an international investigation into her father’s death should be conducted.
Probes have been earlier facilitated by the UN in the cases of Rafic Hariri (former Lebanese prime minister) and Benazir Bhutto’s (former Pakistani prime minister) assassinations but an investigation is yet to take place into her father and uncle’s killing despite Dr. Najibullah had taken shelter for more than four years within the UN premises. 
She asked, “Why is their silence on this matter?”
On Pakistan’s current stance towards Afghanistan, Khattak believes the country “has systemically worked to tamper with Afghan national identity by exaggerating its Islamic part, not for the love of Islam, but for weakening the Afghan part of the identity.”
He is of the view that the country aimed at deconstructing and weakening Afghan and Pashtuns’ historical identity to make Afghanistan vulnerable to foreign domination. “Unfortunately, Pakistan’s policy to Talibanize Afghanistan to ensure its hegemony hasn’t changed… Pakistani generals are still sticking to the old policy.”
This comes as Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process is constantly being hailed by many stakeholders – including the US, China and recently the Afghan government. Given its broad-based influence in the Taliban, Pakistan is considered to be the facilitator that brought the Taliban at the negotiating table for the intra-Afghan talks which are ongoing in Doha over the past two weeks. However, Afghans are still wary of the country’s intents and primarily see its actions as hypocrisy and double-faced.
Comparing former president Najibullah’s government with that of President Ghani, one of the major differences setting them apart is the widespread backing that Ghani enjoys from the global fraternity, as well as the fact that Afghanistan is connected on so many levels with the world; ranging from the internet to the networks of youth and academia, and revitalized mutual economic interests with other countries. Unlike Najibullah’s administration which was isolated and ignored internationally, Ghani possesses an edge in this regard. As long as that remains the case, Afghanistan and the Afghan leaders would be able to avoid arriving back at square one and thus abstain from the perpetuation of war. In addition, the current Afghan administration has the advantage of learning from the very recent history to not allow the dreadful recurrence of the same scenarios.