Wednesday night, Dad Noorani, one of Afghanistan’s best political analysts and most courageous journalists, succumbed to a heart attack. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig commemorates the determined opponent of warlordism and defender of the rule of law.
Born in Farah in 1956, Dad* Noorani – he also used the first name Paghar – studied medicine at Kabul University but was forced to leave the country after the PDPA took over power in 1978. He went to Iran (1980-88), where he led a students’ association, and later to Pakistan (1988-2001) – but this was not a permanent exile. Time and again, he went back into Afghanistan, running schools and hospitals, both in his home province as well as in Nuristan and Kunar. ‘In the ranks of the political fighters against those days’ regime’, as oneobituary guardedly stated, he was also involved in ‘political, cultural and practical activities’. More clearly spoken, he belonged to the leftist opponents of the Soviet-backed regime – a label that can be dangerous nowadays.
After the fall of the Taleban regime, Noorani returned to his country and started work as an editor of and writer for progressive newspapers, always fighting against a shortage of funds. From 2002 to 2005, he run Rozgaran(News of the Day; see its website here) which was close to Hezb-e Hambastegi (Solidarity Party), a small pro-democratic group, 2005-06 Taraqi(Progress) and following this Peshraw (Forward; see its 1385-87/2006-09archive here) which continued – in lose frequency – until his demise.
Simultaneously, he belonged to the board of The Killid Group of media. He was a host on its radio wing, Killid FM, and run an influential programme that dealt with Afghanistan’s contemporary history, ” افغانستان در چهاردههء اخیر” (‘Afghanistan in the last four decades’). And he devoted himself to training young journalists; Ricardo Grassi, the Killid Group’s director for media development, quoted an Afghan colleague in his English-language obituary that he kindly sent to us before it was up on their website: ‘”He was an instructor not only of journalism, he also improved enormously our political understanding,” said another reporter who has been next to him along the last five years. “I learnt how to be realistic and at the same time to understand that nationalism is acceptable only when it means being concerned for our people, women among it.”’
This did not mean that he was not emphatic. In contrast, he unmistakenly took position and was renowned, in particular, as a sharp critic of the return of warlordism in his country. As Grassi put it, Noorani was ‘stubbornly independent “as a journalist must be”, [as] he said and taught’. This earned him numerous threats and, already by April 2005, eleven summons and two warnings by the prosecutor; a third one would have meant the closure of the paper.
It did not protect him that he strictly argued along the existing laws. In April 2004, before the first parliamentary elections, Rozgaran warned:
‘The two imminent dangers of warlordism and terrorism jeopardize the fairness of the election. By adopting a carrot and stick policy and seemingly lending their support to the parliamentary election, the warlords wish to impose themselves on the people and pave the way for their entry into parliament. Meanwhile, al-Qaida and the Taleban are against the election and try to undermine it through their acts of terrorism. The recent murder of Lal Mohammad Khan, a parliamentary candidate representing Hezb-e Hambastagi Afghanistan [Solidarity Party of Afghanistan] in Washir District of Helmand Province, sounded a very loud warning signal. […] The international community is worried about the technical problems of the parliamentary election. However, these security problems are one hundred times more worrying.’ (Rozgaran 20 April 2004, quoted from BBC Monitoring).
Noorani condemned the registration of former mujahedin tanzim as political parties. He said that the registration of Jamiat-e Islami and Dawat-e Islamiwas illegal since they were involved in human rights violations in the pre-Taleban period. He argued that ‘[i]f the government allows these kind of parties to work on the ground it will be deemed as a supporter of warlords and violator of human rights’ (Pajhwok, 28 April 2004, read in full here). Later in the year, Rozgaran wrote that ‘[i]f general disarmament is not implemented and guns are not collected, we will not witness [a] democratic election, particularly in regions that are under the influence of the warlords’ (read full article here). He also sharply condemned the Wolesi Jirga’s ‘amnesty bill’.
He did not blame Karzai alone for the return of the warlords, but addressed the original source:
‘The people of Afghanistan were very clear when they voted for Mr. Karzai [in 2004]. They wanted him to eliminate warlords from his government. But [US Ambassador] Mr. Khalilzad ignored the promises President Karzai made to the people and talked him into including Ismail Khan and Dostum in his administration. Khalilzad has appeased these warlords by bringing them into the government, but this is not a long-term solution. President Karzai is going to be left to deal with them in his already struggling government.”‘ (Los Angeles Times, 21 June 2005, full article here).
He also criticized sharply President Karzai’s habit of rotating high-ranking government and security officials instead of dismissing them when they failed to fulfill their jobs (Rozgaran, 6 April 2005, quoted from BBC Monitoring).
Like many Afghan democrats, he first supported the Western intervention. Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls, authors of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence, write in their book: ‘In our own discussions with Noorani, the editor of the independent weekly newspaper Rozgaran in Kabul, he said that ISAF expansion would be “very good for our people. . . . ISAF forces are welcomed by people more than U.S. troops because people think the U.S. has biased policies in Afghanistan-also the security would be better.”’
Three years ago, this had changed. Under the headline ‘Ne Amrika, ne Taleb wa tufangsalar: Faqad niru-ye sewum’ (Neither America nor the Taleban or the Warlords: Only a Third Force) he wrote on Peshraw’s website, not without an anti-Western tone:
‘For the people of Afghanistan, one way remains, and this is to think about the establishment of a third force. This force can arise from the freedom-loving intellectuals inside and outside the country, the tribal elders who have not disgraced themselves with partiality and pettiness, democratic people who have not succumbed to those two forces and political movements that have not welcomed any violence. [They should] form a united front, fight with different means for the expulsion of the foreigners and the prevention of the interference of the neighbours and their servants […], and strive for independence, freedom and neutrality in order to safe the people from the current blood-stained situation. Those who have coated their hands with the blood of the people, participated in the sell-out of the country and gave the order for blood and fire are only a minority, less than two thousand people.’
Apparently, Noorani was not hopeful anymore that the West would be interested in and support such an undertaking.
(*) Please pronounce ‘Dād’, not like in (engl.) ‘dad(dy)’.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020