Dr. Mohammad Najibullah and his brother Shahpur Ahmadzai were killed by Afghan Taliban on the 26th of September 1996 in the UN compound in Kabul city. The dead bodies were dragged through the streets and were hanged in the main square of Kabul by the newly victorious Taliban.
The man may be dead, but his ideas and solutions for Afghanistan’s conflict retain their relevance, at least for some.
Consider, for instance, that Engineer Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, chief of Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, did what he had rejected some 26 years ago, when it was offered by Dr. Najibullah under a ‘National Reconciliation Policy’. Soon after assuming the office of President at the end of November 1987, Dr. Najibullah had not only developed a plan for pulling Soviet troops out of Afghanistan but he had announced a National Reconciliation Policy, offering power-sharing arrangements with the Pakistan-based Afghan resistance (Mujahideen) leaders.
Just recently, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar signed a peace agreement with the government of Dr. Ashraf Ghani. This peace agreement is similar to that offered by Dr. Najib soon after assuming charge as Secretary General of former ruling People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in November 1986.
“Najib’s death and the humiliation of his dead body was a message to all progressives on both sides of the Durand Line”
Mian Iftikhar Hussain – former information minister of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and a veritable wall against the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – had met the communist Afghan President many times. Mian Iftikhar shares his experiences from his meetings with Dr Najib:
“I remember some of my meetings with Dr. Najib on the 77th independence day of Afghanistan. I was in Kabul. Pakhtun nationalist leader Wali Khan and Dr. Najib were returning from Moscow and I was in the queue of those who had gathered to receive the gentlemen. When Wali Khan saw me, he smiled and told Najib, ‘In Moscow, students were asking about this guy!’” Najib told me after four days that he would call me for a meeting. Najib was an intellectual and a broadminded nationalist leader – he was inspired by the Bacha Khan and Wali Khan tradition of politics.”
Mian Iftikhar goes on:
“There was a beautiful presidential palace in the heart of Kabul but Dr. sahib was living in a very small home. One day, he invited us for dinner. Everyone was astonished when we saw that he was living in a very simple and small house. I heard his speeches – his personality was towering and whenever he delivered a speech, his voice was like thunder!”
Najib, to some in Afghanistan “the symbol of peace”, had started his politics from the days of when he was a student. His worldview revolved around socialism, communism and humanism. Iftikhar narrates that late one night, Najib came alone to his apartment for a visit.
“It was winter and Dr. Sahib was wrapped in a Pakhtun chadar (mantle). I told the embattled president that the times were not conducive to his travelling alone in such a manner. The brave president replied, ‘This is my Haywad [motherland] and I want to convey the message to terrorists that I am ready to sacrifice my life.’ Dr. Najib was, for me at least, a visionary and the way he was able to unite people from various national and ethnic groups in Afghanistan around him – history shows that after him the Afghan land has not produced such a widely acceptable personality in politic.
Za da watan, watan zma day
Za da watan da para sar Qurbanwoma
[Born out of my soil
I sacrifice my life for the sake of my land]
Dr. Sahib recited for me this Tappa many a time and to me it shows that he was well aware of the consequences in opposing American Cold War interests.”
Even today, Mian Iftikhar Hussain goes on appealing to the UN to investigate the murder of Najib, a man he considers to be a great leader. For some, the fact that Najib’s last refuge was in a UN compound and the fact that he was dragged to his death from there by the Taliban, places at least some of the responsibility for his death at the hands of the UN too.
Mian Iftikhar, in fact, insists:
“History will repeatedly say that the UN was also responsible for his murder. Dr. Najib being killed and the humiliation of his dead body was a message to all progressive nationalists on both sides of the Durand Line – to terrorise the followers of the philosophy of Bacha Khan.”
Ameen Jan, now a senior leader of Pakistan’s left-wing Awami Workers’ Party (AWP), was in exile at Kabul during General Zia-ul-Haq’s pro-Western military regime. During his stay in Kabul, he was able to meet Afghanistan’s last communist president many times. He summarised his experiences with Najib during his exile as follows:
“I have met Dr. Sahib before his presidential period but he was a powerful man even then. And he called me few times after taking the presidential oath. He was very clear in his vision and policy – he wanted to see a peaceful, modern, educated and prosperous Afghanistan and have smooth and cordial relations with all neighbours. I spent many years in Afghanistan and observed the PDPA government keenly. To me, it seemed like the best ideology for opposing imperialism…”
Like Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Ameen Jan also testifies to Najib’s love of the Pashto tappa of poetry in general. Ameen Jan recalls that Najib often complained of his situation with the following verse:
“Pa Lara zam tola shrangeegam
Sta da tuhmat zanzeer pa ghara garzwoma”
[Going on the way, I produce a jingling sound]
[I carry a chain of your blotch round my neck]
Ameen Jan goes on to offer his analysis of Najib’s role in the 1980s as follows:
“During the Cold War, Pakistan and Afghanistan were part of opposite global camps and the Jamaat-e-Islami and other right-wing political forces had propagated against what they described as ‘atheistic communism’. Ironically these parties were supporting the Pakistan-China friendship – knowing full well that by their own logic, the Chinese leadership was at least as ‘atheistic’ and ‘godless’ as that of the Soviet Union. The argument is made by sympathisers of the pro-Moscow PDPA regime in Kabul that much of the anti-communist sentiment that drove the ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan was manufactured by a confluence of interests between the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistani elites. In his own time, Najibullah was the unquestioned leader of Pakhtun progressives on both sides of the Durand Line and it earned him the enmity of many powers.
Najib was well aware about the prospect of his death in the near future and therefore once he said to me, ‘In the coming days, the world will witness a bloodbath in this region’“
Ameen Jan pauses and then concludes:
“And yes, the Russians had betrayed their longtime honest friend…”
“Despite foiling a well-organised coup, Najibullah remained firm on his commitment to national reconciliation”
Shamim Shahid, senior journalist and expert on Afghanistan, from his reminiscences of Najibullah, describes the latter’s political vision in the following words:
“In 1986, Mohammad Khan Chamkani was declared acting President and Dr. Najib became Secretary General of the Soviet-backed PDPA government in Afghanistan. During this period, Najib declared a ‘National Reconciliation Policy’ which was formally endorsed by traditional Loya Jirga, held on the 29th and 30th of November and the 1st of December, 1987, at Kabul. Besides endorsing the national reconciliation policy, the Loya Jirga had also elected Dr. Najibillah as President of Afghanistan.
Through the National Reconciliation Policy, Najib had declared a general amnesty for all those who were engaged in armed resistance and hostilities against the government. Similarly, he offered transfer of power to a broad-based transitional government. Even later he announced his willingness for a transfer of power to seven Peshawar-based mujahideen groups, the famed Islamic Unity of Afghan Mujahideen (IUAM). But all such offers were rejected by Peshawar-based Afghan parties.”
Shamim is of the view that some of the mujahideen parties, the ‘moderate’ groups like Afghan National Liberation Front led by Sibghatullah Mujaddadi, the National Islamic Front of Pir Syed Ahmad Gillani and Harakat e Islami Afghanistan of Maulvi Nabi Mohammadi neither rejected nor accepted in public the ideas of Dr. Najib. But these three parties were helpless due to the hard stance of the remaining four parties. Besides Hekmatyar’s Hezb e Islami Afghanistan (HIA), the Jamiat Islami Afghanistan of Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ittehad e Islami of Abdul Rab Sayaf chose to take a particularly hard line towards the PDPA regime.
In such a context, came the Geneva Accord, agreeing on a schedule for pulling Soviet troops out of Afghanistan. The then Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo was running the affairs of Pakistan. It was believed that Premier Junejo, without the consent of president Zia-ul-Haq, had sent the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Zain Noorani, for the signing of the Geneva Accord. Wakeel Ahmad, Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, was the second signatory and it was guaranteed by the USSR and the USA.
“He had floated the idea of an alliance and understanding amongst different nationalities of the region – the Pakhtuns, Punjabis, Baloch, Uzbeks and Tajiks”
“At its peak, Najib’s policy of reconciliation won him significant popularity in Afghanistan. But at the end of 1988, Zia’s government and Saudi Arabia sponsored a meeting of the Peshawar-based IUAM shura, which elected a parallel government with Prof. Sibghatullah Mujaddadi as President and Rasool Sayaf as Prime Minister. The first ever meeting of the parallel exiled Afghan government, dominated by mujahideen, was arranged in mountainous caves just on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, in the Khost province, in January 1989. Media teams from all over the world arrived to cover it, Shamim remembers.
Later, the defense minister Shah Nawaz Tanai along with Interior Affairs minister Syed Mohammad Gulabzai and General Abdul Qadir, with support from the mujahideen, launched a decisive coup against Najib’s government in Kabul. The coup was foiled and Tanai with his aides succeeded in escaping to Pakistan with the help of Hekmatyar’s supporters. “
Shamim recalls that Najib was unfazed:
“Despite facing and foiling a well-organised coup against him, Najibullah remained firm on his commitments regarding national reconciliation. After foiling the coup, Dr. Najib had visited various provinces and cities where he had addressed traditional jirgas and he even arranged a traditional Loya Jirga in 1990, which announced an end to the communist policies of his administration. The PDPA was renamed as Watan Party (Homeland Party). In his speeches before the jirga and its delegates, Dr. Najib had again told the resistance leaders that foreign powers were reluctant to let peace return to Afghanistan. He even predicted continued conflict in the region after the fall of the Soviet Union!”
On August 2, 1990, in his office at Kabul, I met Najibullah amidst the process of the Soviet Union’s collapse. He had floated the idea of an alliance and understanding amongst different nationalities of the region – the Pakhtuns, Punjabis, Baloch, Uzbeks and Tajiks for foiling attempts at a continuation of violence using the slogan of Islam and jihad. Even in his speeches, he pleaded before warlords Hekmatyar, Sayaf, Rabbani and Khalis to be aware of “mysterious elements” who, he said, were determined to turn Afghanistan into a battlefield for yet another round of war.
It was not to be.
General Dostam began a revolt against Najib on Nauroz (March 21, 1992) at Mazar e Sharif, which finally lead to the fall of Kabul to Ahmad Shah Masoud and Dostam’s forces on April 16, 1992. Najibullah along with his brother and close aides took shelter in the UN compound at the Wazir Akbar Khan area as Kabul fell to another round of violence.
It was to be his last move.
Shamim tells me:
“ I admire Najib fore seeing the destructive future of the region. He knew this land will become a battlefield for many countries and the ultimate price would be paid by the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Abdur Rauf Yousafzai is a journalist based in Peshawar. He may be reached at email@example.com