The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2004
Author: Carlotta Gall
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Price: $ 28
“When the Taliban took Kabul days later, the first thing they did was drag Najibullah through the streets and string him and his brother up on Ariana Square...The first ring of Taliban fighters controlling the gawping crowds were Urdu-speaking Pakistanis. Some of them dark-skinned and wearing sunglasses, Abdul Waheed Wafa, a colleague who was there, told me. The ISI’s demand had been met,” writes Carlotta Gall, virtually indicting Pakistan’s intelligence agency for the murder of the former Afghan president who had asylum at the UN compound at the time. Pakistan is clearly miffed at the New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall’s new book, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2004, that was just released.
Ms Gall’s account of Dr Mohammed Najibullah’s lynching, a war crime by any standard, matches what many Afghans and Pakistan’s Pashtun nationalist leaders have said all along. She also chronicles that the ISI gave orders to kill Dr Najibullah to a Taliban commander Mullah Borjan, who had travelled to Quetta before the imminent fall of Kabul in 1996. Borjan, like many other Taliban, was hesitant to carry out this particular order but confided to a Pakistani journalist that he had come from the ISI offices and that “They are insisting that the first thing we do is kill Najibullah. If I don’t, I am not sure what will happen to me.” Borjan’s Kashmiri guard killed him on his way back to Afghanistan. Someone clearly did not trust Borjan’s vacillation and had a backup plan in place to eliminate him and Dr Najibullah both.
Dr Najibullah was not the only Afghan leader that was killed. Ms Carlotta Gall, again like many Afghans, Pashtuns and analysts, has pinned the responsibility on Pakistan for commissioning a decapitation campaign against the Afghan leaders. She notes that the two Tunisians pretending to be journalists who killed the veteran anti-Taliban leader Ahmad Shah Massoud in a suicide bombing — the first ever in Afghanistan — two days before the 9/11 attacks, had been issued one-year, multiple-entry visas on forged Belgian passports by the Pakistan embassy in London. The assassins travelled from Pakistan to Kandahar to what was a high profile reception by the Taliban there. “The ISI undoubtedly knew of their trip,” Ms Gall has concluded. Ahmed Shah Massoud, like Dr Najibullah, had the appeal and national standing that stood in the way of Pakistan’s plans.
Ms Carlotta Gall traces the tragic journey of another prominent Afghan, the former mujahideen commander Abdul Haq, back into Afghanistan right after 9/11 only to be assassinated on the direct orders of the Taliban interior minister Mullah Abdul Razzaq. She notes, “His brothers blamed the CIA for pushing Haq into Afghanistan when conditions were still too dangerous. Those close to him claimed to see the hand of Pakistan in his assassination, too, since the interior minister was especially close to the ISI, and Haq was a strong charismatic leader who opposed Pakistan’s policies toward Afghanistan.” Ms Gall has accurately noted that Abdul Haq and his two associates were unarmed at the time. It may be worthwhile for her to probe into who denied arms to Abdul Haq starting in the settled areas of Pakistan, across FATA and in Afghanistan. Abdul Haq’s brother Haji Qadeer, who was a vice president under Mr Hamid Karzai, was gunned down nine months later.
The most recent victim of the decapitation spree against the Afghan leadership was Ustad Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president of the country and the incumbent chair of the Afghan High Peace Council. Ustad Rabbani’s assassination in a suicide bombing was again blamed on the ISI, Ms Gall writes. This time around, Afghan intelligence caught the bomber’s accomplice and under interrogation he revealed that two Pakistani men in Quetta, whom he only knew as Mahmoud and Ahmed, had plotted the attack and sent him in with the suicide bomber. President Hamid Karzai himself has narrowly escaped several attempts on his life, including in his home province of Kandahar. Ms Gall is on the money that someone has clearly wanted the independent Afghan leadership eliminated or bombed into submission.
Ms Carlotta Gall makes a case, and has taken flak for it already, that Pakistan not only wanted these Afghan leaders dead but has all along harboured their killers, including Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. She writes that in 2005 Zawahiri crossed over from FATA into Kohat where “he negotiated to stay for one month in the governor’s home”. Her assertion that a special ISI desk handled Osama bin Laden’s sanctuary, including in Abbottabad, has already appeared in her article last month. She has a point that such operations are by design covert and planned for maximum deniability, thus precluding hard evidence of foul play, but it would have been helpful to see more supporting information in the book about both the al Qaeda leaders and Mullah Omar. It is unlikely though that she would convince any naysayer unless a directive signed in ink is produced, which obviously never happens in the murky world of clandestine wars. The onus, however, should not be on Ms Carlotta Gall to release more info
rmation but on Pakistan to officially release its own inquiry report into the raid that netted Osama bin Laden, which hopefully does not imply something more sinister than the incompetence plea Pakistan has taken. The terrorist lynchpin was found in Pakistan’s, not Carlotta Gall’s, front yard, after all.
The book is organised into 14 chapters that move in chronological order from the Taliban’s 2001 surrender through the ‘Pakistan protégés’ unleashing hell on Afghanistan courtesy the ‘suicide bomb factory’ that Pakistan’s tribal areas have become, to culminate in the people of Kandahar finally rebelling against the Taliban in 2013. Ms Gall, who has covered the region from Wakhan to Pashtunabad, Quetta, and has a Rolodex second to none, has stated at the outset, “I do not pretend to be objective in this war. I am on the side of the victims.” The account, delivered in a veteran war reporter’s flawless but unassuming language, stays true to the title drawn from the late US diplomat Richard Holbrooke’s concern that “we may be fighting a wrong enemy in the wrong country”.
The enemy, as the Afghans continue to lament, is not in the villages of Afghanistan but remains headquartered across the Durand Line in Pakistan. Why has the US failed to confront the actual threat is a question asked throughout the work. Squashing the vipers without draining the pit seems like a self-defeating exercise. Ms Gall’s conclusion, like President Karzai’s, seems to be that the US is reluctant to confront a nuclear-armed large country despite the latter’s continued backing of cross-border jihadist terrorism due to geopolitical expediency. She rightly resolves that the Afghans do not necessarily want the foreign troops but need continued assistance, training and support in both civil and military sectors if the second coming of the al Qaeda-Taliban is to be averted. Many in Pakistan are not miffed at Carlotta’s gall just for probing Zawahiri and bin Laden’s whereabouts but because she has chronicled their malicious, hegemonist behaviour pattern towards Afghanistan accurately.
The Daily Times, 10 April 2014