Diplomat Speak

Only pressure on Pakistan can stop the violence: Afghan Ambassador Masood Khalili


He survived to tell the tale of how Ahmed Shah Massoud, the legendary ‘mujahid’ of the Afghan resistance against Soviet occupation, was killed by two youth posing as journalists. That assassination, on September 9, 2001, was followed by the horrors of 9/11, setting off a chain of events that catapulted terrorism to the centre-stage of international political discourse.

May 4, 2017
By Nilova Roy Chaudhury
He survived to tell the tale of how Ahmed Shah Massoud, the legendary ‘mujahid’ of the Afghan resistance against Soviet occupation, was killed by two youth posing as journalists. That assassination, on September 9, 2001, was followed by the horrors of 9/11, setting off a chain of events that catapulted terrorism to the centre-stage of international political discourse.
Yet Masood Khalili, comrade and foreign policy consultant to Massoud, who was sitting next to ‘the Commander,’ as Massoud was called, and survived the massive blast that killed the ‘Lion of the Panjshir,’ harbours no ill-will against the youth who killed his close friend and left around 11,000 fragments of shrapnel in his own body. 
Khalili was not expected to survive and remained unconscious for weeks after the bombing. When he regained consciousness, he learnt he had lost his ‘Commander’ and himself an eye and an ear, while suffering grievous injuries all over his body forcing him to be wheelchair-bound for over six months.
“Four things saw me through that time,” said Khalili during a conversation with South Asia Monitor's Nilova Roy Chaudhury: “My faith, family, friends and fitness regime. When I returned to Delhi after months of hospitalisation in Germany, I returned to the ‘Ambassadors’ gym’ at the Ashok Hotel and, though in severe pain, I was determined to stand, take steps and walk. Then I even ran.”
Khalili is now Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Spain and senior adviser to the Afghan leadership. He was in India in April for the release of his book, “Whispers of War: An Afghan Freedom Fighter’s Account of the Soviet Invasion,” (Sage), an intensely personal account in which he chronicles their enormous struggles to rid Afghanistan of the Soviet troops. 
Son of Ustad Khalilullah Khalili, a famous Afghan poet who was later the Afghan envoy to Iraq, Khalili, alongside Massoud, travelled by foot and on donkey- and horse-back through the length and heights of Afghanistan, motivating people in their resistance to the then Soviet ‘Red Army.’
As he writes of the travails of his journey in the form of a diary to his wife Sohaillah, Khalili’s account speaks of the search for ever elusive peace in a country ravaged by war, the war that altered the landscape of Afghanistan and changed the fabric of its society.
“I wanted to talk to her, so I kept these diaries. They contain my thoughts, straight from the heart, to give hope for peace,” said Khalili.
The end of that war, during which the rag-tag army of ‘mujahidin’ were supported by western powers, saw enormous disillusionment with those same powers, who “abandoned” them the day the Soviet army left.
“All celebrated, but the Afghan people. We were abandoned by the West when the Soviets left,” said Khalili. “But they left all their ‘Stingers’ (missiles).” “Either they had no vision or we had no vision. I did not foresee that they would just leave. I did not know before that ‘no cat is catching the mouse for the sake of God,’” he said, quoting an Afghan saying. “We had no money.”
Like most analysts, Khalili admits that the course of Afghan history would have been different and much less violent had Massoud not been killed then. However, he remains hopeful that his beloved country and its people will survive and emerge stronger and united against the onslaught from this “new enemy: Terrorism.” 
Khalili was Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India when the Taliban seized power in Kabul in 1996. He persuaded the Indian government to back the efforts of the Tajik-born Massoud to again “liberate” his country from the onslaught of the “terrorist regime.” 
Along with Iran and Russia, India became part of what was called the ‘Northern Alliance,’ led by Massoud. These troops marched in to Kabul and removed the fundamentalist Taliban regime in December 2001, months after  Massoud was killed.
Describing how the Northern Alliance happened, Khalili said, “India moved when the West abandoned us. India did not want any Pakistan-sponsored state in Afghanistan. I came to India as Ambassador in 1996, months before the Taliban government took power in Kabul.”
Coordinating with a handful of senior officials in the Indian foreign ministry, led by Vivek Katju, Khalili helped mould the Northern Alliance, with Massoud at its head. Their entry into Kabul in December 2001 helped bring the new, democratically elected government to Afghanistan.
Khalili says for the violence to stop in his country, greater pressure must be put on Pakistan. "Our demand to all superpowers is to put pressure on ISI (Pakistan's intelligence agency). Only that will stop the violence".
Q: How do you envisage the future of Afghanistan?
A: In the first three, four years, the (Hamid) Karzai government did well. Things were very good. Children went back to school. There was popular support and appreciation of the western presence, led by the US forces. After defeating the Soviet forces, ordinary Afghans did not have any fear or awe of superpowers. 
Q: What happened then, to turn the tide, again?
A: During Karzai’s initial years, thousands of Taliban and al-Qaeda escaped to Pakistan and were given shelter there. 
Then there occurred a change in the nature of war; to terrorism. Instead of the known enemy, we are faced with a faceless, unknown imported enemy, with no values.In 2005, Pakistan did a tactical sweep. Seeking strategic depth, the ISI began to send the Taliban back into Afghanistan. Now, Daesh (Islamic State) has appeared and made its way from West Asia to our country. They are very different and deadly. I don’t believe Daesh and the Taliban are together. But greater pressure must be put on Pakistan. Our demand to all superpowers is to put pressure on ISI. Only that will stop the violence.
Q: In the midst of so many setbacks, how do you retain optimism for Afghanistan’s future?
A: The last 16 years has brought a lot of change. Four million children are in schools across the country. Afghanistan has a standing army of 300,000 soldiers; 150,000 policemen. Three elections have been held, with people’s participation. There are 42 TV channels and a strong media has come up. Hospitals have been built.  The source of my optimism is the strong generation of educated youth. I can help to guide them. I tell them, “I helped to liberate your land. You liberate your minds.”
America is both a liability and a gain, and we are grateful. India is our dear friend and brother.
(Nilova Roy Chaudhury can be contacted at nilovarc@gmail.com)

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