We won the war but lost the peace: Afghan diplomat Masood Khalili

By Saket Suman

New Delhi, Apr 12 (IANS): The story of Afghanistan -- of the war against the Soviets and of terrorism that has gripped the landlocked country ever since -- is in many ways also the story of diplomat Masood Khalili, who motivated his people and led them in their fight against the Red Army.

It was a war of liberation, says Khalili, the country's ambassador to Spain and who has also served in New Delhi, lamenting that even after defeating the Soviets, Afghanistan lost its peace.

"Can you believe it? To win the war but lose peace? It was very hard for me and my friends, but we lost it. Our actions and the actions of our neighbours have kept the war going to this day. In the time of the war against the Soviets, the whole country was in one way or another involved, but now not everyone is involved in the war against the Taliban," Khalili told IANS in an email interview.

The victory against the Soviets was expected, by all means, to ensure lasting stability in Afghanistan. How did things go awry?

Khalili, whose memoir, "Whispers of War: An Afghan Freedom Fighter's Account of the War" (Sage/Rs 495/275 pp) has just been released, attributed this to lack of experience, a lack of vision and "a concerted effort by our neighbours, especially the ISI of Pakistan".

"In the war against the Soviets, not one Afghan had exploded himself in order to gain something but now, our southern neighbor (Pakistan) and our neighbor to the west (Iran) keep involving themselves negatively in our internal affairs, training, funding and arming our enemies to mobilise against the government in Kabul," he contended.

The memoir is an account of the search for ever-elusive peace in Afghanistan. Translated by his son Mahmud Khalili, the book brings to life the diplomat's letters to his wife during the troubled times when he journeyed through the Himalayan region.

Khalili was the political head of the Jamiat-i-Islami Party of Afghanistan in the war against the Soviets from 1980 to 1990 and a close adviser to legendary resistance commander Ahmad Shah Masood, also known as the Lion of Panjshir. He is largely credited with motivating his people in the war against the Soviets.

"If you do not mobilise your people, the enemy mobilises them. This is why I travelled throughout Afghanistan more than 13 times on horse, donkey or on foot. It was not an easy task at all, but I had to do it in order to end the horrible war that was killing thousands of my people every month," he recalled.

In the summer of 1986, Khalili was forced to leave behind his wife Sohaillah and his two sons Mahmud and Majdood in Pakistan before embarking on his journey to mobilise the people in Afghanistan. During this period, he maintained a regular diary, which now finds mention in the just-released offering.

"Even if I was in the most horrible condition, writing in my notebook about my own plight and that of my poor, war-torn countrymen, would give me strength to move on," he said.

The high-profile Afghan diplomat further shared his perspective on the role of Afghanistan in the 21st century and the many hurdles in achieving that goal.

"If you lose hope, you lose everything. It is through hope that we Afghans were able to defeat the Red Army, one of the superpowers of the world. Just imagine, a super power was defeated by the super poor. How? Through mobilisation and through keeping hope alive. Wrong can never stay for long. Just like the British and Soviets, the Taliban also will not be able to stay forever," he maintained.

He said that there is an urgent need to "bring an end to government corruption and inefficient spending" in Afghanistan and that the country needs "real leaders" as weak leaders without vision cannot bring about peace and stability.

The Afghan freedom fighter further urged "friends from around the world and our own leaders in Kabul" to bring pressure on Iran and Pakistan to stop supporting fundamentalist groups inside Afghanistan to further their own interests in the region.

To combat terrorism, he said, it was important to contain poverty and to support the youth of Afghanistan. "We, the old generation, fought against the Soviets and are still fighting against the Taliban, Daesh and Al Qaeda -- but it should be our youth who should get more involved in every sphere of society. They can make their future better and we should give them the means to do it," he contended.

Sharing his perspective on the role of Afghanistan in India-Pakistan ties, Khalili said: "Afghanistan is seen by Pakistan as the means to get to Kashmir because, for Pakistan, all roads always lead in that direction. The ISI believes in a policy of strategic depth and if they have influence on the politics of Afghanistan, they will be in a better position to win back Kashmir."

He, however, hoped that if Afghanistan was at peace, one could think about economic cooperations between the three countries and make the post-Soviet states into active partners to further peace in the region.


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