|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
1 - 7 November 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
The death of more than Abdul-HaqThe killing of Commander Abdul-Haq last week has dealt a massive blow to the US effort to install a broad-based government in Afghanistan, writes Absar Alam from Peshawar
Until late September, Commander Abdul- Haq -- a former Afghan commander who rose to fame as a freedom fighter against Soviet forces between 1979 and 1989 -- was living a quiet life in the United Arab Emirates, where he ran a carpet business.
Commander Abdul-Haq (photo: Reuters)
After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Abdul-Haq and his brothers joined the broad-based government that took power in Kabul. He became the inspector general of Police of Afghanistan for some time while his brother, Haji Abdul-Qadeer, was the governor of Nangarhar province. A few months before the Taliban's rise to power in 1996 Osama Bin Laden, then recently expelled from Sudan, sought refuge from Haji Abdul-Qadeer in Nangarhar province. Soon afterwards, Abdul-Qadeer was defeated by the Taliban who took control of Nangarhar. Bin Laden joined forces with the Taliban and in the meantime, a beleaguered Abdul-Haq decided to leave Afghanistan and settle in Dubai.
He was still living in Dubai when he was contacted by US intelligence agencies, who sought his support for the formation of a broad-based government in Afghanistan. Just two weeks before the US launched its air blitz on Afghanistan, Abdul-Haq arrived in Peshawar, Pakistan's northern city which is close to the Afghan border. After staying there for a couple of weeks, he entered Afghanistan to find pockets of rebellion among the Taliban regime and help develop them.
But it was not to be. The Taliban swiftly caught and executed Commander Abdul-Haq. The regime even refused to permit the transfer of his dead body to Peshawar. He was buried in Jalalabad early Sunday morning.
The killing of Commander Abdul-Haq has dealt a massive blow to the US efforts to cobble together a broad-based government in Afghanistan. The commander -- a stocky, bearded man in his 50s -- rose to fame among warring Afghan factions when he destroyed a huge Soviet ammunition depot in Kabul in the mid- 1980s. Abdul-Haq was an ethnic Pashtun. After his days fighting a "Holy War" against Soviet forces, Abdul-Haq developed what might be termed "cordial relations" with the US intelligence network, the CIA. It has been widely reported that the CIA had convinced him to play a role in dismantling the Taliban regime, and install instead a broad-based government in Afghanistan that would represent all ethnic groups.
At a press conference in Peshawar last week, the Commander's elder brother, Muhammad Din, pledged to continue his brother's mission. Despite this, analysts believe the US efforts to force open cracks among Taliban ranks and to announce a new government, with King Zahir Shah as its figurehead, will take considerably longer to materialise now that Abdul-Haq has been killed.
The Taliban's execution of what they term a "US agent" has been a significant victory for them on several fronts. Their actions send out a strong message -- to Washington, to their domestic opposition, and indeed to their own soldiers -- that they are still in complete command and will not tolerate any attempt to create defections among their ranks.
The particular circumstances of Abdul- Haq's death remain a mystery. He had been accompanied on his mission in Afghanistan by an old friend of his, Muhammad Doran -- who was also executed -- and his nephew Izzatullah, who managed to survive. Abdul-Haq and Doran met their end soon after they were arrested by Taliban soldiers. The Taliban claimed they had recovered five million US dollars in cash, three satellite telephones and three vehicles from Abdul- Haq.
Despite initial attempts by US officials to deny any link with Abdul-Haq or that they had sent a rescue mission to save him, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld later confirmed that US forces had tried to rescue Abdul-Haq from the Taliban. The US support -- which was provided only by air -- proved ineffectual.
In an attempt to downplay the adverse affects of Abdul-Haq's killing on the formation of a broad-based government, Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf told journalists last week that Abdul-Haq's death would not jeopardise the plan. But Western diplomats based in Islamabad believe the killing has dealt a significant blow to the US-led coalition's efforts to capture areas inside Afghanistan.
Abdul-Haq's death will probably result in the drawing out of the military action in Afghanistan. Pakistan and other Muslim countries certainly do not wish to see this. If US air attacks continue, rising international calls to wind up the military operation, or at least stop it for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, are likely to gain currency, particularly in the Islamic world.
A number of diplomats and defence analysts have now started to question the accuracy and the objectives of the non-stop bombing of Afghanistan since 7 October. US objectives have not been achieved. The relentless bombing has neither helped create defections among the Taliban nor caused any major damage to the 35,000- strong Taliban guerrilla force. US bombs have hit mosques, a hospital, a passenger bus and Red Cross warehouses, which has resulted in rising sympathy for the suffering of the Afghan people.
According to one diplomat, "The lack of intelligence about the Taliban, their installations and their hideouts is the main hurdle in achieving the objectives." Several analysts have also said that the US attacks on Afghanistan took place too soon to be successful, given the absence of complete information. The Taliban guerrilla force is still intact and no considerable injury has been caused either to the leadership or the soldiers: this is the primary reason behind the US's hesitance to send in ground troops.
The next two weeks remain crucial. If a political process does not take shape before Ramadan, and if US military action continues, Muslim governments will most likely have to face up to increased anti-US rallies and declining public support for the US-led coalition of which they are part.
Recommend this page© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved
Letter from the Editor
|WEEKLY ONLINE: www.ahram.org.eg/weekly
Updated every Saturday at 11.00 GMT, 2pm local time