By Yanis Iqbal
On August 15, 2021, Afghan president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani made an inglorious exit from Afghanistan. In the words of Russian Embassy spokesman in Kabul Nikita Ishchenko: “the collapse of the regime…is most eloquently characterized by the way Ghani fled Afghanistan. Four cars were full of money, they tried to stuff another part of the money into a helicopter, but not all of it fit. And some of the money was left lying on the tarmac.”
Sitting safely in the United Arab Emirates, he has busied himself with public relations damage control. “Do not believe whoever tells you that your president sold you out and fled for his own advantage and to save his own life…These accusations are baseless… and I strongly reject them…I was expelled from Afghanistan in such a way that I didn’t even get the chance to take my slippers off my feet and pull on my boots.”
Many high-ranking individuals have strongly disagreed with Ghani’s attempted dignification of his dishonorable escapade. On August 18, 2021, Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi called on Interpol to arrest him for “selling out the motherland.” On the same day, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan told a news conference that Ghani “stole $169m from the state coffers” and called his flight “a betrayal of the state and the nation”.
Ghani’s opportunistic behavior stands in stark contrast to the principled stand taken by Afghanistan’s last left-wing president – Mohammad Najibullah. After assuming power in 1986, he followed a policy of national reconciliation, looking for a political resolution to the proxy war raging in his country. A unilateral ceasefire with the jihadists was proposed and posts were offered to the insurgents in a coalition government.
In an attempt to create a broad-based state, mujahedeen leaders, the former king Zahir Shah and ex-ministers from previous governments were invited to join a government of national unity “to rebuild the war-torn country”. Parliamentary elections in April 1988; a non-party candidate, Mohammad Hassan Sharq, was elected prime minister and 62 parliamentary seats were left vacant for the opposition.
Addressing the UN General Assembly in June 1988, Najibullah stated that the “flexibility of the present leadership of Afghanistan also includes its decision to give up monopoly on power, the introduction of parliament on the basis of party competition and granting of all political, social and economic rights and privileges to those who are returning.”
Significant headway was made in reaching peace accords with local warlords. In 1988, 160 guerrilla commanders had reached agreements and more than 750 were negotiating. An attitude of domestic concord was consistently maintained. On March 2, 1989, Najibullah told Far Eastern Economic Review that all arms shipments to both sides be halted. “If it is said that we get help from the Soviet Union, then let the arms supplies from both superpowers be cut to put an end to the war”.
Pro-imperialist propagandists had believed that Najibullah would fall within months, if not weeks, of the withdrawal of Soviet troops. However, his government continued to enjoy deep support in many parts of Afghanistan. When the Geneva Accords were being signed, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) – to which Najibullah belonged – claimed a membership of 250,000. Its organizational branches had a combined membership of 750,000. Afghans preferred government-controlled cities over the mujahedeen-dominated refugee camps in Pakistan, or in Iran.
On the military front, the PDPA survived without Soviet intervention. As the last of the Soviet troops were crossing the Amu Darya River, Washington and its faithful auxiliaries withdrew their embassies from Kabul. Shortly, the mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar predicted that “Kabul will fall in weeks, not months, without any major onslaught on the city”.
Najibullah defied the hopes of imperialists. Norm Dixon writes: “The contras and Washington expected wholesale defections of the Afghan armed forces to the mujahedeen. It was not to be. As with Jalalabad and Kandahar, two cities which had been being successfully defended solely by Afghan troops for several months without Soviet troops, Kabul too would hold out.”
The PDPA government’s success in promoting internal stability was suddenly undermined by the 1991 collapse of the USSR. While Soviet military supplies to the Afghan government witnessed an abrupt blockage, American arms and funds continued to flow to the jihadists. Najibullah’s resignation became the sine qua non for any meaningful discussion.
Consequently, on March 18, 1992, Najibullah announced he would resign as soon as an authority could be designated to replace him. Emboldened by these developments, General Abdul Rashid Dostum army’s broke its pact of aggression with Kabul to band together with General Ahmad Shah Massoud in early 1992. On April 15 of the same year, non-Pashtun forces that had been allied to the government mutinied and took control of Kabul airport.
On April 16, 1992, Najibullah was present at the office of Benon V. Sevan – UN secretary-general’s personal representative in Afghanistan and Pakistan – along with the representatives of Pakistan and Iran. When informed of Pakistan’s offer to grant him political asylum at the Pakistan embassy in Kabul, he clarified:
“I said I would submit my resignation in pursuit of the UN peace plan if it would help to end hostilities, and if there would be no assault on Kabul. I warned you that if I announced my intention to resign before an interim government was in place that there would be a power vacuum. This is what is happening today. I fought these developments for three years; I knew what would happen. Once a power vacuum emerges, who will be responsible for law and order and security? Not only the honor and pride of Najibullah are at stake, but also the honor and pride of the UN. I will not go to Pakistan! That is no solution. I prefer to stay at the UN compound. The answer is the UN peace plan, and the Council of Impartials, which will take over as a transitional authority as soon as possible…I offered my resignation today as president of the Republic of Afghanistan, and as leader of the ruling Watan [Homeland] Party [PDPA’s new name, adopted in 1990]. The UN now has the responsibility to make its plan work. I am prepared to sacrifice myself if anyone tries to attack the UN premises, if that will help to bring peace to my country. I am willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
Referring to Iran and Pakistan – which had been funding different mujahedeen forces – he added, “I don’t trust you, you bastards! I would rather die than be protected by you. And besides, I don’t believe you will protect me.” Thus, for years, Najibullah remained isolated in a UN compound. On September 27, 1996, Taliban soldiers – after winning a bloody civil war with various mujahedeen factions and warlords – captured, tortured, and killed him, then hanged him in Ariana Square, outside the Presidential palace. A writer notes: “Najibullah…was left hanging from a Kabul lamp post with his genitals stuffed in this mouth. By such methods, the “civilised West” and its paid agents achieved their main objectives in…[Afghanistan].”