Saturday, 15 February 2014

Najibullah - An interview with his daughter.

On most mornings over a three year period when I lived in Kabul, Afghanistan,  from 
1993 to 1996, I would walk past the UN compound where Dr. Mohhamad Najibullah 
was detained. My friends in the ICRC visited him regularly to ensure he was in good 
health. My first visit to Afghanistan was in 1976 and I have such wonderful memories 
of a peaceful country that was bubbling with potential and promise. Alas, it was not 
to be. From my extensive experience from living and working in Afghanistan, and 
talking to experts like Nancy Dupree and Whitney Azoy the author of Buzkashi, and
 researching widely, I reached the conclusion that Najibullah was the only leader in the 
last fifty years that could have led Afghanistan to the peace and stability most Afghans 
crave for. I worked for some years with Najibullah's daughter Heela, and I am delighted 
she gave this interview recently to Al Jazeera. 
It is time to revise Afghanistan's history and to see Dr. Mohammad Najibullah given 
his true place.


Q&A: Heela Najibullah

The daughter of Afghanistan's last communist president
 reflects on politics and pluralism in the strife-riven state.

Backed by the Soviet Union, Mohammad Najibullah is fondly remembered by some
Afghans [Reuters]
Kabul, Afghanistan - Heela Najibullah was only 10-years-old when her father
became the president of Afghanistan. To Heela, Mohammad Najibullah was Aba,
 father, trying to create reconciliation among
an Afghan nation divided between communists and Mujhaideen, religious warriors
 fighting soviet occupation.
Though Heela saw her father working towards an inclusive solution to the Afghan
 conflict, few in the general population could separate Najibullah the communist
from Najibullah the president calling for reconciliation.
In the decades since, however, Najibullah's image has undergone a transformation.
Pictures of a man
once tied to communism now hang in people's cars, windows and shops.
In an interview Al Jazeera, Heela Najibullah talks about her father's changing
 image 25 years after the soviet withdrawal.
AJ: How old were you during Dr Najib's presidency? How old were you 
when he died?

HN: Aba [my father] became the President when I was 10. He was killed
when I was 18; we had not
 met him for four-and-a-half years.
AJ: How do people react today when you say you are the daughter of 
Dr Najibullah? How, if at all, 
has that changed over the years?
HN: I usually don't mention whose daughter I am. Recently, I met a young
Afghan who was aware of
my background and whose father was a Mujahid during the Cold War.
Surprisingly, he also acknowledged “not reconciling with the Dr was
a missed opportunity”.

Today he is viewed as a man of vision who understood the politics of
his country in relation to the
super powers and regional powers, a man who was progressive and yet
respectful of Afghan culture, a man who wanted peace and an independent
Afghanistan and a man who stood by his ideals. I also am often told how
his predictions of the future wars and bloodshed came true, and that the
Afghans paid
with their blood and honor in the name of religion as he had foreseen.

AJ: How do you think people perceived Dr Najib during his presidency? 
How, if at all, did that
 change over the years?

HN: Aba's Presidency and its perception were greatly influenced by the
 on-going super power rivalries. His image, as that of the entire Afghan
 political scene, was taken hostage. His reconciliation efforts and hopes
 for [a] peaceful Afghanistan were usually a target of Cold War propaganda
because of his affiliation with PDPA [the People's Democratic Party of
Afghanistan] and the years he was head of KHAD [the Soviet-backed intelligence agency].

However, Aba's government and his leadership gained popularity once
the Soviets withdrew. The fact
 that his government survived the opposition's continued offensive post
 withdrawal was a boost to the moral of Watan party members and the masses.
From the perspective of one neighbourhood in Herat
AJ: Those who opposed his government - political figures and average Afghans on the street- what do you think led them to that opposition?
HN: I believe that those political figures, who opposed Najibullah's government, had started their political opposition before PDPA came to power. We all know today that their opposition gained strength outside Afghanistan.

It is hard to quantify how many of the average Afghans opposed his government. Afghan social structure is complex; one cannot put all Afghans in one basket.
AJ: How did you perceive his presidency, growing up? Has that changed 
over time for you?

HN: As a child I found it hard to adjust to our changing environment when
he became the president. I remember praying he quits politics and starts
practicing medicine so my sisters and I could spend more time with him.
 I followed closely the reconciliation process and often felt insecure about
our future wondering what our lives will entail if the extremists took over.

Our movement was restricted because of security, schools had become
irregular, [the] number ofrockets and shelling had increased, I had already
lost my first grade teacher and classmate in bomb explosions and my friends
in school had started leaving the country.

Yet, Aba always reminded us that we were not any different from other
Afghans and that he was doinghis best to finalise the peace process through
the United Nations for his people and us, the future generations of Afghanistan.
AJ: Growing up did you see a very different man in public and 
private? What were the differences?

HN: My sisters and I grew up with a father who watched movies with
 us, played sport, taught us howto recite the Quran, listened to Afghan Folk
music and old Hindi songs,watched the football World Cup and told us
stories of caliphates and emperors.

As a private person, he enjoyed living a simple life always
appreciating friendships and nature. While
 in public, I always saw him as a dedicated leader who sincerely
 thought of serving his people and his nation hoping to bring
 peace and stability to Afghanistan.
AJ: What would surprise people about your father and his 

HN: People are surprised to hear that he was soft and sensitive
inside and yet very decisive, strong and stubborn at the same time.
When he made-up his mind irrespective of the risks and
consequences, he would act on it.

Dr Najibullah's government had a solid political party system
while President Karzai's governmentruns on alliances of power
brokers along ethnic lines and old political affiliations.
AJ: Do you have a memory from your father's time in Afghanistan
 that sticks out to you the most?

HN: Often Aba would tell us stories with a hidden message, one such
story that he shared with my
sisters and I, was about a mother, who assembled her five children and
gave them each a stick to break. Once the children had broken the sticks
into two, she collected them into a bundle and gave each the bundle to
break, which none of the children could break. He concluded his story
by telling us that the mother drew the lesson for her children that when
you are alone you can be broken easily but when you unite no one can
 divide you.

I often remind myself of his story and hope that one day Afghans could
realise their power in their unity.
AJ: How would you describe him as a father? Did that differ from how 
he was a leader?
HN: As a father he was a guide to my moral consciousness and as a leader,
 my hope for a stable Afghanistan.
AJ: Why do you think people are drawn Dr Najib rather than say Zahir Shah,
 Daoud Khan or even Amanullah?
HN: When one reflects on leadership in Afghanistan, Najibullah was the
 first and only leader to fight
for peace and not power or territory. He publicly announced that for a
peaceful resolution with his opposition, he was willing to accept their
conditions to step down.
AJ: Some would say Dr Najib and Hamid Karzai are in similar 
situations, would you agree?
HN: I don't think Najibullah and Hamid Karzai are entirely in similar
situations. Najibullah's
government had no support from the international community while
Hamid Karzai's government has signed strategic agreements which
shall last beyond the withdrawal of ISAF and NATO forces.

[The] Soviet withdrawal was enforced in less than one year, while
 withdrawal of ISAF and NATO forces are currently debated.

Dr Najibullah's government was stronger and independent in terms
of its decision-making processes
 and military capacity, while President Karzai's government doesn't
enjoy the same capacity or independence.

Dr Najibullah's government had a solid political party system while
 President Karzai's government
runs on alliances of power brokers along ethnic lines and old political

Dr Najibullah's reconciliation policy promoted political pluralism
and national unity and indicated religious extremism and poor economy
as the prime enemy for Afghanistan's national interest.
While the Bonn Agreement was the foundation of a divided society based
on ethnicity and selected historical victories of ruling factions who are
 negotiating the agreement to allow US bases.

However, what remains the same are the regional and international
rivalries and continued involvement of Afghanistan's neighboring
countries in its internal politics.

Heela Najibullah with Bob McKerrow in Geneva 2009


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