Skip to main content

Why none is recalling national reconciliation floated by Afghan leader Najib in 1987?

Najib with Gorbachev
By Rajiv Shah 
The return of the Taliban in Afghanistan has taken me down the memory lane to my Soviet days, when I was special correspondent of the daily “Patriot” and the weekly “Link”, both semi-Left papers, in Moscow. I landed in the Soviet capital on January 23, 1986. Mikhail Gorbachev was already in command of the Soviet Communist Party after the 27th Congress – the first major event which I covered in Moscow. Already words like perestroika and glasnost were in the air, with ideas floating around that these would be applied to the foreign policy as well.
A year passed by, and I got an invitation from the Soviet information department to visit Afghanistan. I was keen, as I had already found that Gorbachev wanted Soviet troops, stationed there since 1979, to withdraw. He seemed confident that under the new Afghan regime under Najib (who later renamed himself as Najibullah), the country would implement what was called a “national reconciliation” plan by “uniting” opposing forces. Najib had announced a unilateral ceasefire in order to bring his reconciliation plan a success, and even declared, not a single Soviet soldier would remain on Afghan soil.
What particularly sounds intriguing today is, nobody talks about the “national reconciliation” plan floated by Najib, whom I met in Kabul at the end of my about week-long trip to Afghanistan as part of a foreign journalists’ group taken in a chartered plan to see for ourselves how it had begun to become operative.
The Taliban, it is being reported now, are “different” from what they were when they took over two decades ago, extreme bigots, and are also seeking reconciliation with their opponents. But compared with what Najib did, with Gorbachev help, this appears to be next to nothing.
I extensively reported about Najib’s national reconciliation, which wouldn’t have been possible without the avid support of Gorbachev. Following the overthrow of Gorbachev and dissolution of the Soviet Union, Najib lost all support. As Mujahideen took over, he resigned in 1992, and was publicly hung in Kabul by the Taliban in UN premises, where he lived, in September 1996.
It was an extremely wintry day in early January 1987. It was minus 28 degrees centigrade Moscow, perhaps worse. I got a phone call from the Afghan embassy to get my passport stamped if I wanted to go to Kabul. Packed with all the necessary clothing, I went out, took the trolley bus just outside my residence at Ulitsa Chkalova. Freezing in the bus, I got out, went into the nearest metro station, Taganskaya, sat there for a while to warm myself up, and returned to my home, walking. It wasn’t very far.
The next day it was minus 15, better, and though very windy, intolerably windy, I decided to take the trolley bus to reach the Afghan embassy, braving the icy particles smashing on on my face. I got my passport stamped with an Afghan visa.Organised by the Soviet information department, a plane load of foreign journalists were flown to Kabul, if I remember the date correctly, on January 14, 1987.
All Moscow-based top newspaper and TV journalists, whether from the US, Britain or Japan, but very few from the third world countries, were taken to Kabul. I was the only one from India. There was a journalist from Pakistan, too. The plane, an Aeroflot, hovered around on the airport, and after taking a few circles, up in the air, landed at the airport.
Journalists suspected, this was because the authorities at the airport wanted to make sure that the rebel forces – called Mujahideen – did not strike at the plane, perhaps equipped as they were with US-made ground-to-air missiles. Taken to the hotel – I don’t remember the name – in a bus, which had an educated English-speaking guide, the next day, during breakfast, I was asked by a Japanese correspondent whether I heard or saw or heard Mujahideen firings at night. I hadn’t.
For the next three days, we were taken to different spots in Kabul, including the market and the mosque areas, to see for ourselves how life had returned to normal. Press conferences were organised to tell us that the Mujahideen were lying low and were losing ground, and the government under Najib was in negotiation with different political forces in the country to bring about reconciliation, which would ultimately lead to the withdrawal of Soviet forces.
Still glued to my Communist past, I seemed impressed. I interviewed anyone who knew some bit of English or Hindustani/Urdu. Bollywood films were very popular, and most people could speak in a highly Pushto-ised Hindustani. On the third day we were taken in an Afghan military plane to Jalalabad, the next major Afghan city, where we were shown different spots to see how things had been turning normal and there was no Mujahideen threat.
The market in Jalalabad, interestingly, had textile shops run by Sikhs, and I got interested in talking to them. They knew no Hindi, and only spoke in Punjabi. Talking with several of them, I could gather from them that they were happy that a national reconciliation plan would be in place and things might return to normal.
Interviewing Najib: January 18, 1987
Taken in a bus from Jalalabad to attend a couple of or three meetings of tribesmen, who we were were free to move around between Afghanistan and Pakistan, I found a large contingent of Soviet tanks lined up with Afghan soldiers atop. Returning from the borders with Pakistan, one could hardly see any any Soviet soldiers, except at the Jalalabad airport. Not that Soviet soldiers weren’t there: Unarmed, I could see them bargaining at Jalalabad bazaar for some titbits. They seemed to give the impression that they wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Back to Kabul on the same day evening, again in an Afghan military plane, we had a press conference with President Najib. I applied for a separate interview with Najib. A day before we were to depart from Kabul, I was taken to meet him. He spoke in Hindustani with Pushto accent, shook hands and hugged me rather tight. Lean and thin, I felt very frail. I asked him a few questions, especially how he saw national reconciliation, whether it was similar to Bulgarian leader Georgi Dimitrov’s United Front, meant to combine forces to fight fascists in late 1940s.
Highly educated, Najib was Gorbachev favourite, why he was installed Afghan president despite opposition from within Soviet Communist Party
Najib told me it wasn’t the same, but asked me to give him a list of questions, answers to which he would post to me to Moscow. At the airport, I was approached by an Afghan official to hand me over a my photograph with Najib and assure me I would soon get answers to my questions. I didn’t file any story while in Kabul, so but back home, I filed three stories – all of which were taken on the edit page, (one of them I have still preserved), apart from an exclusive interview with Najib.
What I observed in Kabul and Jalalabad was interesting: Though Najib told me that his national reconciliation plan wasn’t easy enough, as it meant uniting different political forces, including the two factions of the Left-wing People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), Khalq and Parcham, which had alternatively ruled the country and were at loggerheads, an interaction with a cross section, including traders, workers, tribesmen, government officials and PDPA cadres in Kabul and Jalalabad revealed that it did held out hope.
Wasim Siddiq, a party cadre in his mid-30s who had lost two of his relatives during the violent past, told me, “We are all tired of this war. We want peace. Both we and those who are in the opposition camp.” According to him, people had become politically more conscious, even illiterate peasants would listen to radio stations – Kabul, Moscow, Islamabad, BBC, Voice of America. They wanted to be better informed, looked forward to the days when large number of refugees – about 1.5 million – who had fled to Pakistan would return to Afghanistan.
In Kabul, I was told by head of the Afghan chamber of commerce – whom I met in the hotel I was staying – how under Najib business could flourish if his offer for peace was successful. A similar sentiment appeared to prevail in Jalalabad, where a cloth merchant told me, people wanted peace, wanted to utilise the opportunities offered by the government to develop trade and business. At a jirgah near Jalalabad, the tribesmen spoke loudly that “enough blood” had been shed, hence they wanted peace so that they could move around freely between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Afghan rebels (left) at press meet with Defence Minister
Even as I was in Kabul, sections of Afghan opposition which were at war with the then Afghan government seemed keen to give up arms. Officials told me, about 2,000 armed men surrendered their weapons on January 18 and signed a peace protocol in Herat province, and this had become a “regular feature” in Afghanistan. One Ishhan Bahbah of the Baghban province and three other rebel leaders, Mohammad Ahmed Yaqubi, Nasiruddin Amin and Nizamuddin Wahdad, addressed a press conference. Wahdad, we were told, had returned from Pakistan, from where he was fighting.
No doubt, Najib faced a Herculean task: The armed rebels were an estimated 70,000 strong, but what I failed to understand as to why was the US supporting the Mujahideen, who were bigots of the worst type. There was enough reason give Najib a chance. Indeed, Najib’s reconciliation plan was strongly progressive in a feudal-tribal setup.
It consisted of mutually acceptable dialogue and rational compromise, a multi-party system, membership to 'any patriot' in the National Front mass organisation, accommodation and land, education for children, employment in their previous places of work, including to servicemen, pardon to army offiders who had deserted and prisoners, except those who involved in criminal cases, tax exemption and loan from agricultural development bank on easy terms etc.
Himself highly educated, after studying at the Habibia High School in Kabul, Najib, who was a Gorbachev favourite, one reason why he was installed as Afghan president despite opposition from within the Soviet Communist Party, went to St Joseph's School in Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir. At Kabul University he completed Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degrees in 1975, though soon thereafter he joined politics.

Comments

Unknown said…
The Soviets help a lot built infrastructure, tunnels across the mountainous country which are there to this day. They also built schools, hospitals, universities, etc. The Americans almost did nothing during their 20 years of occupation. The American lackeys only concentrated on making money,while the Americans bombed the hell out of the countryside. The puppet régime was thus hated by the common Afghan.

India started off quite well and their development diplomacy was perhaps the only worthwhile develop work done in Afghanistan. However after Modi came to power, they took the destructive path of making their counsolates bordering Pakistan launching pad for subversive activities in Baloochistan in a bid to match ISI's activities in Kashmir. That way India lost the goodwill it earned due to development activities take up during Manmohan Singh's régime. Today Indians are looked down upon which was never the case even during the Taliban rule.
Y S Gill said…
The above comment is by Y S Gill
It is ironical that a leftist regime backed and another is now backing the extreme right regime of Afghanistan. Politica do make strange bedfellows. Equally ironical is that Trump, a Republican,and Biden, a Democrat are in agreement on the basic idea of pulling out of Afghanistan.

I agree with Biden that US has no business helping the Afghans when they are not willing to help themselves.

TRENDING

Iswarchandra Vidyasagar was a 'frustrated' reformer who turned into a conservative

By Bhaskar Sur "If someone says the Manusamhita was written by all wise Manu and the principal scripture of the land and if he asks me to throw it away, I'll say it is nothing short of atrocious audacity." -- Iswarchandra Vidyasagar

Why do I lend my support to voices protesting world class renovation of Gandhi Ashram?

By Martin Macwan* One would not expect an activist working on Dalit rights to join such a protest. Dalits carry unhealed trauma that Gandhi caused to Dr BR Ambedkar and the Dalit cause of effective political representation by using violent means of his own definition in the event of the Poona Pact. This apart, Gandhi’s ideas in general, which changed often, on caste were orthodox. I have nothing to add to the subject after the sharpest critique offered by Dr Ambedkar.

2002 riots: Gujarat assembly 'misinformed' about dereliction of duty, says ex-DGP

By Rajiv Shah  Former Gujarat topcop RB Sreekumar, an IPS officer of the 1971 batch, has alleged that the Gujarat government gave “totally false information” on the floor of the State Assembly regarding the appeal he made to the Gujarat governor for the “initiation of departmental action against those responsible for culpable negligence in maintenance of public order and investigation of genocidal crimes” during the 2002 riots.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Odisha bauxite mining project to 'devastate' life of 2,500 Adivasi, Dalit farmers: NAPM

Counterview Desk  While the public hearing on mining in Mali hills has been cancelled due to protests by Adivasi and Dalit farmers of the Mali Parbat Surakhya Samiti, Odisha, who have been protesting against the proposed bauxite mining project, India’s top civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has said it is “deeply concerned” at the decision of the Government of Odisha to push the project in a Schedule-V Adivasi-belt Koraput district against the interests of the people and environment.

'Devastating impact': Rural workers suffer as Govt of India NREGA budget down by 34%

Counterview Desk  A civil rights group, the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha has sent a letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj stating that 34 per cent decrease in the fiscal budget of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) for year 2021-22 has added to woes on India’s rural population, already suffering from “devastating impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Economy in tatters, labour codes 'take away' workers' safety, benefits, right to form TU

By Our Representative  The four new labour codes promulgated by the Government of India came in for sharp criticism from several labour unions and civil rights groups at one-day discussion meeting organised in Ranchi (Jharkhand) on the issue of ‘changes in labour laws. Participants in the meeting asserted that under these new codes, many of the benefits and safeties accorded to labourers have been "taken away", while the right of labourers to create trade unions has been attacked.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Celebrating birthday amidst image of 'coerced, submissive' India ruled by a strong leader

Pushkar Raj*  As the weeks long birthday festivity of the leadership was being rejoiced India wide, the Covid was still raging in several parts of India. The carnival was in line with the post-Covid decisions and actions of the leadership demonstrating a pursuit of personal power and glory instead of national interest in times of disease and death.

Politically-motivated: Global NGO network on ED 'harassment' of Harsh Mander

Counterview Desk  CIVICUS , a top global alliance of civil society organisations seeking to strengthen citizen action and civil society around the world with a claimed membership of more than 10,000, objecting to the alleged harassment of IAS bureaucrat-turned-human rights activist Harsh Mander by the Government in India, has said that the the the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raid on his house and office highlights “an ongoing pattern of baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges brought by the authorities against activists across India”.