Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

War and Peace

Najib Who? Or: A Faux-pas Transition Press Release

Thomas Ruttig 6 min

Press releases of NATO and ISAF in Kabul are not known for their literary quality. Mostly, they inform matter-of-factually about successes of the Western troops and political progress achieved and often are full of euphemistic language, military neologisms and acronyms. Not different those of DVIDS, the ISAF Joint Command’s Defence Video & Imagery Distribution System. A bit contrary to its name, DVIDS also publishes press releases.

One published on 1 July celebrates that ‘Afghans are ready for [the] first stage of transition’ (get the full dose here), that long-decided (by NATO) but still mystical process without a concrete take-off date and the open 2014 end, to be started this month in full Panjshir and Bamian, Kabul rural minus Sarobi district (Kabul city was transitioned in 2008 already, without many people noticing), Mazar and Herat city (without the surrounding provinces), the island of Lash and amputated Mehtarlam, not a very big town already before its rural, insurgency-ridden surroundings were cut off it under the name of the new district of Badpakh in a case of what could be called enteqal gerrymandering.

Most astonishing in this press release is a reference made by Afghanistan’s ‘transition czar’ Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an unsuccessful candidate for the UN Secretary-General’s position and former finance minister in Karzai’s cabinet-turned-presidential candidate against the incumbent-turned-de facto cabinet member again: ‘that this transition is not similar to one at the time of Mohammad Najibullah Ahmadzai’s government’.

Interesting enough that an Afghan top official would as much as think of comparing the Soviet-installed former Afghan head of state (1985-92, murdered and mutilated, or the other way around, by the Taleban in 1996 when they overrun Kabul and pulled him out of the UN compound after UN staff and guards alike had abandoned him) with the current one who openly is called a puppet by the Taleban only. The more so as the Soviet withdrawal, and even more so Jelzin’s decision to stop all aid in 1992, military and else, triggered regime collapse. This comparison will not be lost on many Afghans who remember those events and its results well.

Interesting also is the name given to the former head of state. In fact, his name was Dr Najib(ullah) only, see official documents of the time. He was Dr Najib when at the helm of the KhAD, the notorious post-1980 Afghan intelligence service, and when he became head of state in 1986. When the ‘policy of national reconciliation’ (the first one) started, with the intent to split the mujahedin and ‘reintegrate’ the willing, and with all socialist insignia dropped to show that the Kabul government was still Islamic, we returned to his original full name Najibullah.

The ‘first name’ Muhammad was invented for him by Western newspaper editors who would ask their correspondents ‘How can this guy have no first name?’ This was before the famous sentence was coined that ‘xyz goes by one name only, as many Afghans/Indonesians etc. do’ (a similar case was Indonesia’s ‘Ahmad’ Sukarno.) So, Muhammad was the most obvious.

A completely different case is the tribal ‘surname’ Ahmadzai applied to Najibullah in this press release. Yes, sure, Najibullah belonged to the Ahmadzai tribe. He was born – and is buried – in Seyyed Karam district, not far from Paktia’s capital Gardez, in Ahmadzai land. But he would have never used this tribal name. Najibullah saw himself as a national politician, and ‘tribal’ was not yet that ill-understood exotic buzzword that it has become now amongst those who had always known that Afghanistan is a homogenous conservative society and not Switzerland.

Actually, calling Najibullah ‘Ahmadzai’ is something like a posthumous insult – which, though, must be forgiven if it sprang from the pen of an ISAF press officer only.

This whole piece would be futile if Najibullah would have been dead and forgotten, remembered at best as the head of an institution that tortured and killed opponents. During his tenure as president, though, he earned both the respect of many Afghans and visiting Western journalists who queued for interviews with him. I remember a former Afghan colleague who had fought the Soviets in the Panjshir telling me that ‘only two Afghan Presidents ever did good for the Afghan people: Sardar Daud and Najib’. Another former anti-Soviet fighter whose village was carpet-bombed by the Soviets once said bitterly when discussing the destruction of the factional wars and the corruption of the new regime that ‘I sometimes thinks it was a mistake that I fought the Soviets’.

So, don’t be surprised when you see Najibullah pictures on calendars in the bazaar, on the wall in a restaurant or a music shop or even in a car. But the caption will never say ‘Muhammad Najibullah Ahmadzai’.

Press releases of NATO and ISAF in Kabul are not known for their literary quality. Mostly, they inform matter-of-factually about successes of the Western troops and political progress achieved and often are full of euphemistic language, military neologisms and acronyms. Not different those of DVIDS, the ISAF Joint Command’s Defence Video & Imagery Distribution System. A bit contrary to its name, DVIDS also publishes press releases.

One published on 1 July celebrates that ‘Afghans are ready for [the] first stage of transition’ (get the full dose here), that long-decided (by NATO) but still mystical process without a concrete take-off date and the open 2014 end, to be started this month in full Panjshir and Bamian, Kabul rural minus Sarobi district (Kabul city was transitioned in 2008 already, without many people noticing), Mazar and Herat city (without the surrounding provinces), the island of Lash and amputated Mehtarlam, not a very big town already before its rural, insurgency-ridden surroundings were cut off it under the name of the new district of Badpakh in a case of what could be called enteqal gerrymandering.

Most astonishing in this press release is a reference made by Afghanistan’s ‘transition czar’ Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an unsuccessful candidate for the UN Secretary-General’s position and former finance minister in Karzai’s cabinet-turned-presidential candidate against the incumbent-turned-de facto cabinet member again: ‘that this transition is not similar to one at the time of Mohammad Najibullah Ahmadzai’s government’.

Interesting enough that an Afghan top official would as much as think of comparing the Soviet-installed former Afghan head of state (1985-92, murdered and mutilated, or the other way around, by the Taleban in 1996 when they overrun Kabul and pulled him out of the UN compound after UN staff and guards alike had abandoned him) with the current one who openly is called a puppet by the Taleban only. The more so as the Soviet withdrawal, and even more so Jelzin’s decision to stop all aid in 1992, military and else, triggered regime collapse. This comparison will not be lost on many Afghans who remember those events and its results well.

Interesting also is the name given to the former head of state. In fact, his name was Dr Najib(ullah) only, see official documents of the time. He was Dr Najib when at the helm of the KhAD, the notorious post-1980 Afghan intelligence service, and when he became head of state in 1986. When the ‘policy of national reconciliation’ (the first one) started, with the intent to split the mujahedin and ‘reintegrate’ the willing, and with all socialist insignia dropped to show that the Kabul government was still Islamic, we returned to his original full name Najibullah.

The ‘first name’ Muhammad was invented for him by Western newspaper editors who would ask their correspondents ‘How can this guy have no first name?’ This was before the famous sentence was coined that ‘xyz goes by one name only, as many Afghans/Indonesians etc. do’ (a similar case was Indonesia’s ‘Ahmad’ Sukarno.) So, Muhammad was the most obvious.

A completely different case is the tribal ‘surname’ Ahmadzai applied to Najibullah in this press release. Yes, sure, Najibullah belonged to the Ahmadzai tribe. He was born – and is buried – in Seyyed Karam district, not far from Paktia’s capital Gardez, in Ahmadzai land. But he would have never used this tribal name. Najibullah saw himself as a national politician, and ‘tribal’ was not yet that ill-understood exotic buzzword that it has become now amongst those who had always known that Afghanistan is a homogenous conservative society and not Switzerland.

Actually, calling Najibullah ‘Ahmadzai’ is something like a posthumous insult – which, though, must be forgiven if it sprang from the pen of an ISAF press officer only.

This whole piece would be futile if Najibullah would have been dead and forgotten, remembered at best as the head of an institution that tortured and killed opponents. During his tenure as president, though, he earned both the respect of many Afghans and visiting Western journalists who queued for interviews with him. I remember a former Afghan colleague who had fought the Soviets in the Panjshir telling me that ‘only two Afghan Presidents ever did good for the Afghan people: Sardar Daud and Najib’. Another former anti-Soviet fighter whose village was carpet-bombed by the Soviets once said bitterly when discussing the destruction of the factional wars and the corruption of the new regime that ‘I sometimes thinks it was a mistake that I fought the Soviets’.

So, don’t be surprised when you see Najibullah pictures on calendars in the bazaar, on the wall in a restaurant or a music shop or even in a car. But the caption will never say ‘Muhammad Najibullah Ahmadzai’.

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ISAF NATO

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