Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Political Landscape

From Sufi Sheikh to President: Historic mujahedin leader Mujaddedi passes away

Thomas Ruttig 19 min

With Sebghatullah Mujaddedi, another of the historic leaders of the mujahedin parties, which fought the Soviet occupation (1979-89), has died. Mujaddedi belonged to a famous family of Sufi leaders and for this spiritual position, he was widely known simply as with the honorific ‘Hazrat Saheb’ in Afghanistan. Having been severely ill for some time, Mujaddedi died in Kabul on 11 February 2019. It was four days before the 30th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal, an event which paved the way for his return home – but only another three years later. AAN’s co-director and senior analyst Thomas Ruttig looks back at his life (with input from AAN’s team in Kabul).

Sebghatullah Mujaddedi (1925/6-2019) at the 2003/04 Constitutional Loya Jirga in Kabul. Photo: ToloNews.

His greatest hour

28 April 1992 was possibly Hazrat Saheb (1) Sebghatullah Mujaddedi’s day of fame. On that day, he entered the Afghan capital Kabul with his 20-strong cabinet in a large convoy of vehicles. They had driven from Peshawar and he was taking over as Afghanistan’s interim head of state. Mujaddedi himself, as The New York Times reported, rode in an “an ivory white Mercedes” and was greeted “by restrained public jubilation [and] celebratory gunfire from the guerrillas controlling the capital.”

Describing the handover ceremony, the Times went on to report that Mujaddedi disembarked from his German-made cabriolet 

… at a large house that had once belonged to the Committee for Solidarity and Friendship under the old Communist Government. Around his car, hundreds of battle-dressed fighters struggled to control rapidly mushrooming crowds of Kabul residents screaming “Allahu Akbar!” – “God is Great!”

Several members of the old government escorted the President into the house, including the Foreign Minister, Abdul Wakil, and the commanding general of the Kabul garrison, Nabi Az[e]mi. Mr. Mojadedi walked briskly into the house followed by a black-bearded military aide, his uniform lathered in gold braid and campaign ribbons. Outside the gates, guerrillas shattered the silence firing thousands of rounds into the sky from their assault rifles. [… M]embers of the old Government, including the former Prime Minister, the leaders of the old Senate and House of Representatives, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court, handed power to Mr. Mojadedi [sic] in a formal ceremony at the Foreign Ministry. (…)

The Times reported him as “[b]athed in the glare of television lights and surrounded by guerrilla bodyguards and crowds of aides who had worked with him in his exile in Pakistan” as he addressed the small diplomatic corps, telling them that he and ‘his brothers’  had “received power from the Kabul regime and removed the Kabul regime from power and established an Islamic Government.” He went on: “One of the main things we can do is try to bring peace in Kabul and Afghanistan so that the people no longer have war.”

For Mujaddedi, scion of a powerful religious family, who as we will see suffered terribly in the regime which took power in the 1978 coup, this was his greatest hour. Peace, however, did not come then, and ever after to this very day.

Sufi and religious reformer family background 

Sebghatullah Mujaddedi came from a famous family of Naqshbandi Sufi leaders. They trace their origins back to Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi, known as mujadded-e alf-e thani (Renewer of the Second Millenium), a religious reformer (2) born in Kabul province in 1564 who established a religious centre, Fathgarh, in Sirhind, in today’s Indian part of Punjab. Further back, they trace their roots to Omar Ibn al-Khattab, the second caliph of Islam.

The family came back to Afghanistan in the early nineteenth century. They established a madrasa and khanaqa (Sufi lodge) in Shor Bazar, a part of Kabul’s old city on the southern bank of Kabul River (‘shor’ meaning crowded or noisy), which was largely destroyed during the war. Therefore, their respective leaders were each known as the Hazrat of Shor Bazar. The family later branched out, most importantly to Herat city and to Ghazni province – where it established the Nur al-Madares madrassa in Andar district, still one of the most prestigious in the country. 

During the reign of Amanullah (1919-29), the family took an openly political role. After initially supporting Amanullah’s anti-British and pro-independence course, with one of its members, Muhammad Ibrahim, serving as justice minister between 1919 and 1924, the family went into opposition when the amir-turned-king started his modernisation programme. It was during this time of upheaval that Sebghatullah Mujaddedi was born, in Kabul (in 1926, according to the official biography published by his party although most other sources in recent obituaries – for example here – have given 1925). 

Three years later, in 1928, during Amanullah’s second Loya Jirga the Mujaddedis collected 400 signatures that called the King’s reforms ‘anti-Islamic’, an act which led to a tribal uprising andrevolts in the Tajik northand, finally, to Amanullah’s fall from power a year later, in 1929.

After that, the family’s influence in the court soared further; Fazl Omar Mujaddedi – known as Nur ul-Mashayekh (The Light of the Sheikhs) and Sebghatullah Mujaddedi’s grandfather – and Fazl Ahmad Mujaddedi – son-in-law of the Nur ul-Mashayekh – were both appointed justice ministers (1929-32 and 1932-36, respectively). The clergy, including the Mujaddedis, also regained their influence over the education system; it had been curbed by Amanullah. This meant the young Mujaddedi grew up as a member of Kabul’s elite. He graduated from Habibia High School in Kabul, and also gaining private religious education and then travelled to Egypt to study sharia law from al-Azhar in Cairo, graduating in 1952 and returning home that year. 

From religious to political leader

Sebghatullah Mujaddedi entered the political stage in Afghanistan in his early thirties. A short period of more political openness under Prime Minister Shah Mahmud had just ended. According to his official biography, he refused to take a government position but started to teach at Kabul University’s sharia faculty, the Institutes of Teacher Training and Arabic Studies, and at various Kabul high schools. As the same biography underlined, his position was that

… [f]rom the start of the second half of the twentieth century, the political, religious and ideological leadership of the Afghan society demanded a rather new approach [namely] against [the] infiltration of the atheistic communism [which] was strongly geared against Islam and the Muslim lands, following the Second World War.

In 1959, Mujaddedi was imprisoned for five years by the government of Prime Minister Muhammad Daud (under King Muhammad Zaher Shah), according to most sources (including Ludwig Adamec’s famous Who’s Who in Afghanistan) for campaigning against a planned visit of Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchov in 1959 to Kabul or even for allegedly plotting to assassinate him. Some detail in this narrative, however, does not make sense. Khrushchov, accompanying Soviet head of state Nikolai Bulganin, had actually visited Kabul four years earlier, in December 1955. (3) The only high-ranking Soviet visitor in this period was Soviet then head of state Kliment Voroshilov, the previous year, on 1 October 1958. In May 1959, Daud did visit Moscow where he signed an agreement on the expansion of Soviet-Afghan economic and technical cooperation. As a result of this agreement, more Soviet technicians came to Afghanistan, helping in the construction of the Kushka-Herat-Kandahar highway and the reconstruction of the Kabul airport. More significantly, earlier that year, Daud had ordered the ban of the face veil for women. All this enraged Afghanistan’s religious establishment and a wave of protests followed. It surely was Mujaddedi’s involvement in these protests – which, in Kabul, were brutally beaten back by a police force trained and equipped by West Germany, using, among other means, electrically-charged batons – that landed Mujaddedi in jail. There, he said, he was mistreated, resulting in chronic illness.

Mujaddedi was released in 1964, after King Zaher – so far more or less a token ruler while real power rested with the dominant Musaheban family (4) – to which Mahmud and Daud belonged. The king initiated a new, more liberal constitution that gave more political freedoms and led to the establishment of semi-official political groups and to the freeing of political prisoners. Mujaddedi left the country for a year. He went to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Upon his return to Afghanistan, he found himself banned from teaching for five years. Members of the illegal Islamist movement of the Jawanan-e Musalman (Muslim Youth), established in 1969, inspired by and possibly a branch of the Egypt-centred Muslim Brotherhood and including students such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, offered him the leadership of the organisation. (5) But he declined, and instead founded his own one, Jamiat-e Ulema-ye Muhammadi (Association of the Muhammedan Clergy) in 1972. Its dual religious-political character made it difficult for the government to suppress. Mujaddedi was also the first Afghan to translate Egyptian Islamist ideologue Sayyed Qutb’s book Milestones into Dari which became a major source of insipation for the Afghan Islamist movement.

In July 1973, Daud ousted his cousin from power, toppling the monarchy in a coup d’état in a coalition with leftist military officers linked to the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and bringing about a republican order. Mujaddedi happened to be at a conference in Saudi Arabia. From there, he did not go home but went to Denmark, where he founded and headed a large Islamic centre and mosque in Copenhagen, with branches including in Oslo, Norway. He stayed in Denmark from 1974 to 1978. 

In that year, the PDPA took over in another coup d’état and Mujaddedi fled to Pakistan, where he founded the Jabha-ye Melli bara-ye Nejat-e Afghanistan (National Front for Afghanistan’s Liberation, usually called the ANLF in English). (6). It was originally intended to be umbrella organisation for the then five main Sunni factions – or ‘tanzims’ in Dari and Pashto – under Mujaddedi’s lead, but – as on many later occasions – disunity prevailed and the ANLF became just a sixth faction (with Sayyaf’s Ettehad-e Islami created in 1982 making a seventh).

In January 1979, the Khalqi regime rounded up almost a hundred of Mujaddedi’s male relations who had remained in Afghanistan and likely had them executed – what happened to them exactly has never come to light. Among the disappeared was Sebghatullah’s uncle, Muhammad Ibrahim Mujaddedi, then the head of the family and known as Zia ul-Mashayekh. (His father, Muhammad Massum Mujaddedi, also known as Rasul Agha Jan and later as Mian Jan, had died earlier, in 1971 in Lahore.) In March that year, Sebghatullah Mujaddedi called for a jihad against the Kabul regime. 

It was during this period that the Ghazni branch of the Mujaddedi family, which retained control over Nur ul-Madares, parted ways with Sebghatullah. They mainly joined the Mansur faction of Harakat-e Inqelab-e Islami which later, under the name of Khuddam ul-Forqan, remained an organisationally separate subgroup of the Taleban (see this AAN paper for more background). (Member of the current Taleban negotiating delegation, Suhail Shahin, belonged to this group, as well as several so-called reconciled Taleban residing in Kabul. Its leader Muhammad Amin Mujaddedi lives in Pakistan.

Mujaddedi’s was the smallest of the mujahedin factions. Jebha-ye Melli, which drew on the Naqshbandi Sufi order for recruits, advocated what Adamec called “the establishment of a traditional Islamic state with a parliamentary democracy.” It was seen at the time as ideologically ‘moderate’, compared to the Islamist factions of Jamiat, Ettehad and both Hezb-e Islamis, of Hekmatyar and of Yunes Khales. Among its more famous members (or at least future famous members) was a young Hamed Karzai. He ran ‘foreign affairs’ for the faction and often acted as English translator for various mujahedin leaders during the jihad (see this AAN dispatch).

[Amended 13 Feb, 10pm Kabul time: It is also remarkable that the Jabha’s fighters seemed to have behaved relatively positively during the jihad. Although the fact that it was the smallest group among the big ones might have contributed to this, in any case, there are no reports in files we know that accused them of any atrocities.]

It was only after the signing of the Geneva Accords in 1988 which led to the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan between May 1988 and February 1989, that the mujahedin tanzims started to establish a joint government-in-exile. In the first such administration, established on 9 February 1988 with Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai (from Sayyaf’s Ettehad) as Prime Minister, the ANLF held two posts (as did each tanzim): Mujaddedi’s son Zabihullah (7) was deputy prime minister and the party also held the ministry of planning. In the next one, formed on 28 February 1989 in Rawalpindi after the Soviet withdrawal had been finalised – the so-called Afghan Islamic Interim Government (AIG), Mujaddedi was elected its head by 450 delegates from most mujahedin parties. At least ten tanzim leaders, including all the well-known ones, stood, and Mujaddedi just came ahead of Sayyaf by one vote. (Sayyaf then became prime minister.) 

Despite all elaborate procedures, also this government-in-exile came to nothing, as the Najibullah government unexpectedly survived the Soviet withdrawal – but not the cut of financial and military aid by Russian president Boris Yeltsin in 1992. This triggered a bloodless internal coup of mid-April 1992 on 15 April against  President Dr Najibullah. His First Vice President, Abdul Rahim Hatef, a Kandahari non-party member, took over as head of state. But the real power – if one could still called it that – were with dissidents from his own party, led by Foreign Minister Abdul Wakil, and the commander of the Kabul garrison, General Muhammad Nabi Azemi. The PDPA/Watan dissidents rushed to embrace the mujahedin, and many of the military leaders were absorbed by their factions. The civilians mostly ended up in exile.

The mujahedin take power

Four days before Mujaddedi’s convoy triumphantly entered Kabul, on 24 April 1992, the leaders of the mujahedin parties, while still in Pakistan, had agreed upon a new plan for the transfer of power from the Kabul government. This was the so-called Peshawar Accord. They envisioned three stages. In a first one, a 50-member Islamic Jihad Council (IJC) for a two-month interim period. Mujaddedi was the leader of the smallest of the seven main Sunni mujahedin factions known as the Peshawar Seven (after the place where they had their headquarters). He was elected chairman of the ICJ by the other members. 

The council consisted of representatives of the Peshawar Seven. However, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hezb-e Islami did not agree to the accord, and his people – including Abdul Sabur Farid who had been nominated prime minister – refused to take their seats in the council. The main Shia factions, Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami and Harakat-e Islami were never invited to join the council in the first place.

The plan was for the Mujaddedi-headed Islamic Jihad Council two-month interim administration would be followed by a four-months’ interim government as stage two. It was to be headed by Professor Borhanuddin Rabbani of Jamiat-e Islami, and, four months after that, by an interim government chosen by a shura. In stage three, the interim government was to rule for eighteen more months after which elections would be held. The country was also officially renamed the Islamic State of Afghanistan (Daulat-e Islami-ye Afghanistan) or the ISA.

One day after Mujaddedi’s arrival in Kabul, he declared an amnesty for all members of the former Afghan government, with the exception of Najibullah. About him, Mujaddedi announced, “the Afghan people” would take a decision. Najibullah, meanwhile, was sheltering in a United Nations compound in Kabul after a UN-sponsored handover of power earlier in April 1992 had failed. He unsuccessfully tried to leave the country, but was held up by fighters of his erstwhile ally General Abdul Rashid Dostum who had taken over Kabul airport and switched sides. Grateful for this ‘service’, Mujaddedi confirmed the general’s rank awarded to Dostum by the Najib government and even compared him to Khaled ben Waled, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad who had initially severely opposed the prophet, a kind of Saul-turned-Paul story of early Islam (see a chronology of events here). 

Mujaddedi also fended off a Pakistani demand to sign a bilateral Strategic Partnership Agreement with Islamabad, according to a former mujahedin leader present during those events (earlier AAN reporting here). The agreement had been presented to Mujaddedi by then Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, in order to secure a special relationship after the takeover of the mujahedin. However, as it would have been rather unpopular among Afghans, Mujaddedi evaded giving a clear answer as a refusal would have burned bridges with the neighbouring country. (Such an agreement still does not exist.)

Between war and peace

While Mujaddedi later repeatedly claimed, including in a meeting with then European Union Special Representative Envoy Francesc Vendrell (the author was present and recalls this was in 2003) in his residence in Kabul’s Kargha suburb, that he had presided over the only peaceful period in the recent history of Afghanistan, the reality was much more blurred. Already, after the anti-Najibullah coup, mujahedin forces, mainly of Hezb-e Islami, Abdul Rabb Rasul Sayyaf’s Ettehad-e Islami and Jamiat-e Islami, under the command of Ahmad Shah Massud, had advanced to positions just outside the capital and were fighting each other in Kabul’s streets. Indeed, rockets were fired into Kabul on the very day of Mujaddedi’s inauguration. Facing this danger, and a still largely-functioning Kabul army – the loyalty of which was not assured – Mujaddedi had to be heavily persuaded to move into Kabul by co-mujahedin and their Pakistani supporters, as several Afghan interlocutors who were part of those events have told the author.

Fighting continued throughout Mujaddedi’s short tenure. In late May 1992, a peace agreement between Jamiat’s Massud and Hezb-e Islami’s Hekmatyar which named the latter as prime minister (Massud was already the defence minister) collapsed in less than a week, according to a report by Human Rights Watch that reconstructed the events of those days. On 29 May, Mujaddedi’s plane was hit as he was coming back from talks in Islamabad. Hekmatyar’s forces were blamed. Still, at this point, Human Rights Watch said, there was only “minimal damage to the city” from the fighting.

Mujaddedi was also not fully content with only serving for two months. Contemporary sources say he threatened not to hand over power to Rabbani, arguing in a famous sentence that two months was not enough time to demonstrate any success:“Pe dwo miashto ki cherga chechan ne shi istelai” or A hen cannot produce chicks in two months. (Hens’ eggs actually hatch after 21 days, but poultry keeping was not Hazrat Saheb’s strong point). Finally, he was persuaded to do so. (Also his party, Jabha-ye Melli did not have the firepower to match that of Jamiat.) On 28 June 1992, Rabbani took over the presidency of the interim government. 

Down the slope

The Islamic State of Afghanistan government disintegrated in the inter-factional wars between 1992 and 1996. Mujaddedi found himself on the side of the so-called Coordination Council (Shura-ye Hamahangi). He was the nominal head of this coalition, but its strongest forces were Hekmatyar’s Hezb, Dostum’s Jombesh and Abdul Ali Mazari’s Shia Hezb-e Wahdat (which had meanwhile been allowed to joint the government). Over the European new year of 1994, the Shura-ye Hamahangi tried and failed to oust the Islamic State of Afghanistan’s Rabbani/Massud leadership that had increasingly monopolised power and pushed out other factions one by one. The shura’s attempted coup included one of the worst barrages of rocket attacks of the war. 

When the Taleban took over Kabul in 1996, Mujaddedi initially welcomed their ascent, apparently hoping – as many other Afghan leaders – that he would be able to influence them. Also Adamec wrote that the ANLF recognised the Taleban government. However, Mujaddedi’s official biography comments that the Taleban “failed to benefit from the wise advices [sic] of Sheikh Al-Mojaddedi towards moderation.“ He later went into strict opposition to them, joining the National United Front for the Salvation on Afghanistan (more commonly know as the ‘Northern Alliance’). For his criticism of the Islamabad-backed Taleban, Mujaddedi was forced out of Pakistan in 1999 and went to Denmark another time.

Mujadeddi also joined political forces with the late Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani’s National Islamic Front (Mahaz) of Afghanistan, in a new coalition, Jabha-ye Melli Islami-ye Afghanistan (as Mahaz, Jabha also means ‘front’, so this also translates into English as the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan). It morphed into the Association for Peace and National Unity of Afghanistan, in January 1999, and further into the looser Cyprus Group, which sent a delegation to the Afghanistan Conference in Bonn in 2001, led by Hekmatyar’s son-in-law Humayun Jarir.

A late political life in post-Taleban Afghanistan

With Hamed Karzai, a member of Mujaddedi’s ANLF became the new leader of post-Taleban Afghanistan in 2001. Mujaddedi expected that he would be consulted and play a central role in the new government, or, as his official biography put it, he would keep “a close eye on the President and his government’s performance and handling of affairs.” Although Karzai regularly consulted a council of the former top mujahedin leaders, Mujaddedi’s expectations obviously not fully materialised. In meetings with foreign dignities during this time, he would often not mention Karzai by name, but refer to him as “my assistant.” Later, publicly, he patronised him by calling him “my son and my student” and described how Karzai kissed his hand and greatly respected him (see earlier AAN reporting).

Relations improved after Karzai made Mujaddedi chair of the Constitutional Loya Jirga in late 2003. There, Mujaddedi vehemently rejected a petition signed by the required number of delegates to be voted upon that suggested naming the country the Republic of Afghanistan, again, without the adjective ‘Islamic’. He twice called the signatories ‘unbelievers’ and ‘apostates’ who, after the jirga, “will be punished.” Later on during the sessions, when female delegate Malalai Joya spoke of the “presence of those felons who brought our country to this state” in the jirga, without naming names but with a message clear to all Afghans, friends and foes, Mujaddedi reacted strongly again, calling her a ‘communist’ and an ‘infidel’ from the plenum. Although Mojaddedi apologised for his language in the final session, there is a death sentence for apostasy.

At the end of the sessions which took 22 days and spilled over into the new year 2004, Mujaddedi urged the 102 female and 400 male delegates to rise from their chairs “for two minutes” as a sign that they agreed to the new constitution late on 4 January 2004. All stood up without protest, although some had initially hesitated. The delegates received a medal as a memento of the occasion. Mujaddedi wept out of emotion. But there was no formal vote about the constitution (more AAN background here).

After the first post-Taleban parliamentary election in 2005, Karzai appointed Hazrat Saheb as a member of its upper house, the Meshrano Jirga or Senate. (The president had the right to appoint 34 of its 102 members.) Mujaddedi ran for its chair in December that year, but failed to win a 50 per cent majority of votes in the first round against the other two candidates, the former ‘Northern Alliance’ (Jamiat) intelligence chief and first post-Taleban director of NDS, Engineer Muhammad Aref, and Bakhtar Aminzai, a businessman from Paktia less than half his age. This led to a fit of anger, during which Mujaddedi referred to his merits in liberating Kabul and stormed out of the room. It took the efforts of a number of his co-senators to persuade him to return, after which Aminzai (who would have pitted against Mujaddedi in the second round of the vote) withdrew his candidacy with a rhetoric bow to the ‘jihadi leader’ Mujaddedi and the latter was proclaimed chairman without any further procedure.

Mujadeddi was reappointed as a member of the Senate in 2011. He did nor run for its chair, and soon fell out with Karzai, for whom he had done estekhara (a religious practice to find answers to pressing issues) (8) before his first election. In April 2012, he resigned from all his official positions, including in the Senate and his membership in the High Peace Council (HPC). The original statement by Mujaddedi’s office, reported by media in Kabul, cited the failure of the president “to consider the sincere views and demands of renowned jihadi leaders and public figures on issues of national importance” as his reason for quitting. It hinted at Mujaddedi’s disappointment that he had been passed over as head of the HPC when its chairman, Burhanuddin Rabbani, was assassinated in September 2011. (Rabbani’s son, Salahuddin, was appointed his successor.) Hazrat Saheb had been one of the two original leading contenders for its chair when the HPC was established in September 2010 (AAN analysis here), although Karzai had, finally, opted for Rabbani. Mujaddedi had previously headed the failing predecessor to the High Peace Council, the Independent National Commission for Peace and Reconciliation with its Program-e Tahkim-e Solh (PTS, Programme for Strengthening Peace). It was supposed to reintegrate insurgent fighters, but all but officially closed down on the insistence of donor governments for being “morally and financially bankrupt,” as an internal UN document put it (see AAN analysis here).

Another clash with Karzai happened during the November 2013 Consultative Loya Jirga convened to advise Karzai on whether or not to sign a bilateral security agreement, officially called the Security and Defence Agreement, with the United States. Mujaddedi chaired both the preparatory committee and the jirga itself. The majority of delegates, including himself, spoke in favour of the agreement. However, Karzai rejected the advice and Mujaddedi told him he would “resign and leave the country.” He used the religiously charged word “hejrat” for this threat, in an attempt to drive his point home, but in vain. Karzai never signed the agreement. Mujaddedi did leave, going to Denmark once more, but returned for the 2014 elections when he supported Ashraf Ghani in the second round of the 2014 presidential election. According to ToloNews, he said: “Days and nights I was thinking who to support, at the end and after istekharas (…) and the information I receive from people I reached the decision to support Ashraf Ghani.”

[Next two paragraphs amended 13 Feb, 10.45pm Kabul time] The tradition of trying to get Hazrat Saheb’s support has continued; the 2019 presidential candidate and former director of the National Security Council, Hanif Atmar, said on 18 January – a few weeks before Mujadeddi’s death – in his speech at an official ceremony in Kabul Star Hotel before going to the IEC for registration:

Last night, I went for dast-busi (kissing the hand) of honourable Hazrat Mujaddedi. He was [lying] in sickbed. He accepted to receive me in that condition and said, I performed prayers [blessings] to you for the sake of Afghanistan. I ask the Almighty God for his full health and recovery.

Despite suffering worsening health, Mujaddedi remained politically active, although he was sidelined more and more. In August 2015, he set up a High Council of Jihadi and National Parties (CJNP), bringing together jihadi figures that had supported Ashraf Ghani during his election campaign but had then become frustrated by the president (AAN analysis here). It was founded to reassert their political influence on the new government, with Mujadeddi claiming the lead again as the elder statesman, with a stated mission to “fight corruption, bring peace and to support the good work of the government and oppose any wrongdoings of the government.” Members included Muhammad Karim Khalili, former second vice-president and leader of the largely Hazara Hezb-e Wahdat-e Islami, Ahmad Zia Massud, the president’s special representative for good governance and reform, and two other presidential advisors, Qutbuddin Helal from Hezb-e Islami and Sayyed Hussain Anwari, head of the Shia mujahedin tanzim, Hezb-e Harakat-e Islami (until his death on 5 July 2016). However, this lose group did not take off, and key members went different ways.

… and then there were three

As a Sufi leader, as the leader of one of the more moderate mujahedin tanzims (but not a royalist as often purported) and as a mediator, Hazrat Saheb Sebghatullah Mujaddedi was well respected by large parts of the Afghan population. He has become the sixth of the eight historical top mujahedin leaders who are now dead, following Abdul Ali Mazari (the only Shia among them, murdered by the Taleban on 12 March 1995); Mawlawi Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi of Harakat-e Enqelab-e Islami (died 21 April 2002); Mawlawi Yunes Khales, leader of one of two historical Hezb-e Islami (died 19 July 2006); Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani of Jamiat-e Islami who was assassinated by a Taleban ‘envoy’ 20 September 2011; and Pir Sayed Ahmad Gailani of Mahaz-e Melli-ye Islami who died on 21 January 2017 (media report here). This only leaves Abdul Rabb Rassul Sayaf of Ettehad-e Islami, Muhammad Karim Khalili, Mazari’s successor as leader of Hezb-e Wahdat, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of Hezb-e Islami alive, the latter having returned from the insurgency to political life in Kabul in May 2017 (AAN reporting here) after a controversial peace deal a year earlier. (9)

The government has declared 13 February 2019 a public day of morning, and announced that government institutions will remain closed. On that day, a public fateha (mourning ceremony), will be held in Kabul’s Ghazi (or Olympic) stadium. Mujaddedi will then be buried at the famous Asheqan o Arefan cemetery where a last resting place for members of his family already exists.

Other literature used for this dispatch and not directly quoted in the text:

  • Abuzar Purzada Ghaznawi, Tarikh-e siasi-ye Afghanistan-e mu’aser 5: Ahzab-e jihadi-ye Afghanistan [Political History of Modern Afghanistan 5: Jihadi political parties], Kabul: Hamid Resalat, 1395 [2016]
  • Sayyed Muhammad Baqer Mosbahzada, Aghaz wa farjam-e jombeshha-ye siasi dar Afghanistan, 1284-1381 [The beginning and evolution of political movements in Afghanistan, 1905-2002], Kabul: Shah Books, 1384 [2005].

Edited by Kate Clark

(1) Hazrat is an honorific Arabic title used in Islamic societies to honour a person which literally denotes and translates to “presence, appearance” in a religious sense, with denotations of the charismatic. Saheb is the equivalent of “Sir.”

(2) This is based on the belief that after every one thousand years, God choses someone for the renovation of religion.

(3) This visit started a period of closer Afghan-Soviet cooperation, after the US had shunned Afghanistan (including its requests for arms deliveries), following Kabul’s insistence on its internationally non-aligned position and refusal to join the anti-Soviet Baghdad Pact (later CENTO). (More background in this AAN paper.)

(4) The Musaheban brothers or ‘companions’ of late Amir Habibullah (1901–19) were rivals of Habibullah’s son and successor, Amanullah. After the assassination King Muhammad Nader (ruled 1929–33), who was one of them, they were the effective rulers of Afghanistan, while Zaher Shah was still very young. (He once related in the presence of the author that he was made one year older when ascending to the throne, to reach the required age of 18 years.) The other Musaheban were: Muhammad Hashem (Prime Minister 1929–46), Shah Mahmud (Prime Minister 1946–53), Marshal Shah Wali (commander of the Central Army Corps in Kabul) and Muhammad Aziz, Daud’s father who had been assassinated in 1933 by a supporter of Amanullah while serving as an Ambassador in Berlin.

(5) The first Islamist circles started to gather around Ghulam Muhammad Niazi, the dean of the Sharia Faculty at Kabul University, in 1957, according to Afghan historian Muhammad Hassan Kakar.In 1969, the student wing of this movement, led by Abdulrahim Niazi evolved into the Jawanan-e Musalman (Muslim Youth) which, in turn, morphed into Jamiat-e Islami around 1973. 

(6) Mujaddedi’s party, interestingly, was the only one of the eight largest tanzimsthat did not have the word ‘Islamic’ in its name, reflecting the idea widespread in Afghanistan that this does not need even to be mentioned in a country where more than 99 per cent of the population is Muslim.

(7) Later he also served as his father’s ‘chief executive’ at the Program-e Tahkim-e Solh.

(8) [Amended 13 Feb, 10pm Kabul time: In the Hanafi’s school of thought and according to the Prophet’s instruction, in this case one does his/her prayers (نماز – namaz) and (دعا – du’a) then goes straight to bed and the advice whether to do something or not appears in the dream.]

(9) [Amended 13 Feb, 10pm Kabul time: While technically, Khalili is not one of the historical leaders (the founders and number ones in their particular tanzims; that was Mazari), he stands long enough at the top of Hezb-e Wahdat that we count him here. There is also Sheikh Asef Mohseni, the founder of Harakat-e Islami, who is still alive, but his tanzim was (it has split meanwhile), so to say, the largest among the many small mujahedin factions (others would be the Shia groups that, in 1989, joined Hezb-e Wahdat, or Muhammad Mohaqqeq’s Hezb-e Wahdat-e Mardom, but that split from the original Wahdat later; or the Mansur faction of Harakat-e Enqelab-e Islami), so we did not count him here.]


ANLF Hamed Karzai Jabha-ye Nejat Mujahedin PDPA Sebghatullah Mujaddedi Senate