A YEAR after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Ahmad Massoud — the founder and leader of National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, the key opposition to the Taliban — says the country has moved several steps back on all fronts. In an exclusive interview to The Indian Express from an undisclosed location, the 33-year-old son of legendary fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was known as the Lion of Panjshir, talked about the situation in Afghanistan under Taliban, Pakistan’s role in supporting the Taliban and terrorist groups, and how he wants help from India in military logistics and the resistance from guerrilla fighters within Afghanistan.
What is your assessment of the Afghan situation under Taliban rule in the last one year?
I can say that under the rule of the Taliban, Afghanistan took not just one, or two but many big steps back, from political, social and economic development, and from tolerance, openness, acceptance and many other aspects of our society. We have lost the rule of law, institutions, and the trust of the people. Afghanistan has become isolated once again. It has also became a hub for terrorism under Taliban rule. Let’s not forget that women have completely lost their rights — to study, to work, to be part of the government and even to live. The minorities, like Sikhs and Shias, have lost their sense of security, safety and acceptance in society. We have lost the freedom of speech and we have lost freedom as a whole. Afghanistan has gone back to the dark ages.
What are you fighting for?
I do not want power and my struggle is for justice right now. There is no such thing as justice in Afghanistan. My people are being targeted and persecuted. There is no freedom. There is no right for women or for other ethnicities. There’s tyranny in my country. So in this situation, my fight, it is for justice and freedom. I do not want anything for myself as long as I see my country breathing the air of freedom and having a just government which is appointed by the people.
You mentioned the issue of terrorism. Al Qaeda chief Al Zawahiri was living in Kabul and was killed in a drone attack. What does that tell you about existence of terror groups?
I believe that this was a good step, one evil man less in this world. However, it was not surprising for us that the Taliban was harbouring Zawahiri. Our intelligence, from Taliban and Al Qaeda’s behaviour, indicated that the two are in complete cooperation. The Taliban are harbouring them, and many other terrorist groups are now active in Afghanistan. They are walking around and operating freely. In the last one year, we have tried to explain to the world that giving in to the will of the Taliban is giving in to the will of terrorism as a whole. We must put all the pressure required to make them accountable to international law, especially when it comes to countering terrorism, and also establishing a justice system.
How do you see Pakistan’s role in their support to the Taliban and the terrorist infrastructure?
Pakistan has always played this double game, that they always try to support the groups which destabilise other countries without understanding the consequences of it. Right now, they have a lot of issues internally, too, and it is due to their own behaviour regarding the people of Afghanistan and the situation of Afghanistan. They obviously accept it — that they supported the Taliban, they harboured them for the past 20 years. The leaders were found there, and if Afghanistan was not recaptured by the Taliban, we could definitely see the killing of Ayman Al Zawahiri — in Pakistan, instead of Kabul — just like Osama bin Laden. So Pakistan has supported and harboured Al Qaeda, the Taliban and many other groups.
Instead of supporting a legitimate, independent ally in Afghanistan, called the government of the Republic of Afghanistan with all the differences, they took the wrong path and the wrong strategy, which caused Afghanistan to fall. This is a fire that Pakistan played with, and we will see sooner or later that it will backfire at them. I believe that Pakistan wanted Afghanistan to become a Waziristan, they didn’t want all those terror camps to exist inside Pakistan. So, they pushed it all inside Afghanistan, and they didn’t care about the Afghan people. As I speak most of the terrorists coming to my country are still coming through Pakistan.
Pakistan played the role of a supporter and mentor to the Taliban. However, people of Afghanistan were hoping that despite all the differences in the past 20 years, Pakistan will show that it actually changed its strategy and policy and finally, they will become a sensible and good neighbour to all of us. But they showed that they have not changed.
The rule of the Taliban will be a safe haven, and especially when there is no legitimate government in Kabul. It is a safe haven for many terrorist groups, Jaish-e-Mohammed and many others which are a threat to India, and to all countries in the region. For them to flourish, to use Afghanistan to operate, to recruit and strategically target their own sort of targets. The events in Kashmir have multiplied since the takeover of the Taliban. There is a direct link between Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban and the increase in the violence in Kashmir and also increase in the violence of these terrorist groups because they see the possibility that if we continue the bloodshed and the terror acts, just like the Taliban, we will also be supported, we will also be successful in establishing an extremist government somewhere else. It is very important for all of us to put all efforts together and to defeat this extremist narrative, because it is spreading.
How do you see India’s role, and will this spread to India?
Absolutely, this fire will burn many countries. We saw the events that happened at the Iranian border, a clash between Uzbek border forces and the Taliban, similar things happening with Tajiks and probably, we will see some clashes with Turkmens as well. Afghanistan will become a safe haven for groups which will target India’s security interests. Without a shred of doubt we will see an increase in violence and in motivation. Terrorist groups have all congratulated Taliban for their victory and establishment of a Sharia government. It is not Islamic in my personal opinion. It is very much important not to allow such mentality and ideology to take root.
Your father Ahmad Shah Massoud fought the Taliban, led the Northern Alliance, and was supported by India. What is the difference in India’s approach?
I think the difference in approach is the hesitation. India is still in the process of assessing the situation. This hesitation is fatal. It is very wrong. And we need immediate action before the ideology takes root or before the terrorist find a foundation. It is very important to understand we are on the same page, and we are continuing the same path of my father. So the sooner the hesitation is over, the sooner we come to the conclusion that there should be a joint effort together against terrorism in the region, the better. Because whether we like it or not, we are the last line of defence of Afghanistan’s people against terrorism.
So what is the situation of the resistance now within Afghanistan or any other areas?
We have managed to do a few things in the past one year. First, we created a command and control centre which we lacked before but we are in our infancy. We have no support from outside whatsoever. It is based on the generosity of our own people and their commitment and desire to continue to resist and fight. We started from Panjshir valley, and expanded to Herat, Faryab, Mazhar, Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar and Badakhshan. We have our forces in all of these provinces, including in Parwan, Kapisa. We have more than 3,500 forces. We support them, give them a salary and they are fighting. But our tactic at this moment is exactly what my father used against the Soviets at that time, which was guerrilla warfare. The Taliban have not had many attacks on us. Their success is limited and they achieved nothing. They kill innocent civilians. They are capturing and imprisoning the families of those resistance and our fighters.
Have you been in touch or have you reached out to any Indian government official or representatives for help?
I have reached out to all the countries which I believe could play a role in Afghanistan, and to let them know the situation and also to let them know our readiness. Instead of running away from my country’s problems, or seeking refuge in other countries, or going to the West and living a normal life, to tell them that there is a generation ready to stand up, to resist and not allow for terrorism to take off. I have reached out to India, but the hesitation has been a block. When it comes to the Indian policies, especially after another collapse of a Republic, which was a partner of India, there was a period which the Indian government required to assess the situation. But I hope we see some real moves by our longtime friends, in support of the people of Afghanistan and their struggle for freedom soon.
Could you tell me who you reached out to in the Indian establishment?
We have sent messages to all levels of the government. I have sent my representatives to talk to many countries regarding the situation in Afghanistan.
Is Amrullah Saleh, who worked with your father, and with India still with you. And what help do you want in concrete terms?
Yes, Mr. Saleh is with us and he is a part of the struggle. And he also believes that there should be an effort together to liberate the country. And regarding India, we require a few things.
We need a political solution and we need the whole region and the world to put political pressure on the Taliban for them to establish a legitimate, inclusive government through the decision of the Afghan people. My experience shows that just by condemnations or releasing statements, the Taliban will not surrender. What we need is a continuation of the resistance, working together to liberate the country or part of the country to put pressure on the Taliban to come to this acceptance. This was my father’s vision. He said we need the Taliban to come to the terms of the world and to the region that we require a legitimate, acceptable government by all.
People are ready to stand up and fight, but they need support. The new generation, especially the women and the young, want to stand up. The most important thing is the political support and logistics. People of Afghanistan want to fight and to continue resistance against terrorism.
Do you want India to give military help?
We will accept help from any country willing to help us. The Taliban are receiving support from international terrorist groups, and they are bringing oppression and tyranny on my people. We do not have the lack of expertise, people and soldiers, but we lack logistics.
I was not part of the government and the resistance was created after the fall of the Republic. All the logistics and everything which was in the hand of the Republic, the Taliban took all of that. Everything that we have is because of the generosity of the people. If you see that in the past one year, we survived the winters, the Taliban revenge attacks. We did not go away. In fact we are spreading very fast. It is all happening with literally no outside support. So just imagine how successful it will be with the support. We have, on one side, a terrorist administration, which is supported by some terrorist-supported state. And, on the other side, we have the democratic, moderate and true patriots of Afghanistan fighting for their own country against international terrorism with nothing.
India has revived its diplomatic mission and is extending humanitarian support. But you seem to want more than just food grains.
With all my heart, I’m thankful and grateful for the support that India has been giving. I thank the Indian government and amazing Indian people. And I urge them to continue the support because Afghanistan is going towards a humanitarian crisis. The people have nothing to eat.
However, it is very important to monitor it because my intelligence shows that the Taliban has used this humanitarian support for their own forces and their families, not the people truly in need. They are not distributing aid justly, and they give it to one area more than the others based on ethnicity.
We saw what happened with the Sikhs. Unfortunately, the brutality of Taliban and the terrorism is beyond imagination. We saw the catastrophic impact on the Sikh community of Afghanistan which broke my heart. And harder than the attack, was the departure of my Sikh brothers and sisters from Afghanistan, which is totally understandable. But I never imagined that they would be forced to leave their homes. They are a part of us and we are a part of you.
I believe that we cannot change anything with just interaction, condemnation or humanitarian support. We need to take some measurable, strong and concrete decision in countering terrorism. Engaging with terrorism should not be an option.
There is a perception that Taliban captured the country, but is unable to manage it.
We knew that the Taliban are good at fighting but they are not good as a government. For example, when the people had nothing to eat, their leader said that this is from God, they need to accept it. When it comes to women’s education, they ask why women need education when they have their husbands. When the economy was bad, their leaders said they should pray. So this is their approach. It doesn’t matter how bad the situation gets for the Taliban, it won’t get as bad as going back to the caves. For them, this is heaven. They do not care about the well-being of the people of Afghanistan, and they just want to stay in power. They are obsessed with it.
And thousands of credible and talented Afghans have left the country —teachers, nurses, doctors. Right now, Afghanistan lacks personnel. They cannot continue to rule like this. And many who were optimistic about the Taliban one year ago are very skeptical right now. They are not happy with the situation and they don’t see any hope at the end of this dark tunnel.
The Taliban offered you a role in the government in the regime. Why didn’t you take it up?
Yes, when I met the Taliban Foreign Minister Mr [Amir Khan] Mottaqi in Tehran in January, he offered me a minister’s position in the government. There was nothing official, he said it verbally. I told them that Mr Mottaqi, you got it all wrong. My struggle is not to find a place for myself. Both Mr [Ashraf] Ghani and Mr [Hamid] Karzai had asked me to become a minister and I had refused. My concern at that time was corruption in the way of governing. And I told them that the way they governed would end in a catastrophe, which is what happened.
I told Mr Mottaqi that we fought for 20 years, but right now there is an opportunity that all of us can establish a just government through a legitimate process. Let’s all go and join a legitimate process. In 2001, when the Mujahideen came, instead of establishing their own government they all gathered at the Bonn conference with leaders from different sides of the political spectrum of Afghanistan. They all agreed in that process, and the sort of transition period that was acceptable by the region and the world. I want the cycle of violence to end. Let’s all accept an intra Afghan dialogue, similar to the Bonn conference, to create a transition period and a process to create a legitimate government. Then if 90 per cent of the government comprises the Taliban, I will accept it. But the process must be accepted by the Afghan people and the world. Right now, you came to power with the barrel of a gun. Even if I join you, it doesn’t mean the people will join. It means that I’m also dipping myself in the pool of dirt. I cannot be a part of a government which does not believe in the rule of people and the rule of law. I’m a strong believer of a democratic government that requires people to decide for their own fate and future. It doesn’t matter if they even proposed the leadership of that government to me, I do not accept.
You were one of the young Afghans who studied overseas and then came back to Afghanistan for a better future. Do you think it is an opportunity lost after 20 years of hard work rebuilding the country?
Absolutely. You have no idea how many days and nights I spent imagining if we as a new generation had a few more years of stability, and the things that we could do to prevent this catastrophe. There was a great opportunity. But it was lost. We had a strong institution called army and armed forces, which was lost due to the bad policies, bad politicians and bad neighbours.
We had in the past one year an opportunity to build a stronger government to withstand all of these bad intentions and violence. I never imagined in a million years when I was studying in London, I would go back to my country and fight because I’m not a violent person and I hate war, just like my father. It has always been forced upon us. I do not like it. I have no choice but to defend my people because they are invading my house, my family, my people and my nation. There’s no choice but to stand up. However, my expertise is for the political solutions in Afghanistan. But before my generation could get into politics, or do something beneficial for our country, the collapse happened. I feel so sad and upset sometimes thinking about what a great opportunity was lost.
What do you miss most in Afghanistan?
My people. I just miss the eyes of my people, their hands, their laughter, the hope and love of my people.
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Of course, I love the country and its geography too. But without its people, geography is nothing. Afghanistan has the best people in the world and the worst politicians. This is our destiny.
And I’m just trying to be someone who loves his people and does everything for its people and to follow the path of my father. It’s a huge responsibility and I pray to God every day and to make me successful, to make me do something to be worthy of the amazing people of Afghanistan.