`Oh Gods, from the venom of the cobra, the teeth of the tiger, and
the vengeance of the Afghan — deliver us.’
An old Hindu saying
THERE were some 15 million people in Afghanistan in 1979 when the Soviets invaded. Today that figure has shrunk to around eight million, with up to two million dead, and over five million refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Its people are a mixture of tribes, with a mixture of languages and cultures, but a common religion — Islam. Islam provides a way of life and moral code to all groups. The great majority of Afghans are Sunni Muslims, though about a tenth are Shi’as. Although an over-simplification, it is possible to divide Afghans into two broad groups. To the south and east of the Hindu Kush mountains are the Pushtun, while to the north are the Tajiks, Turkomans and Uzbeks, speaking, or at least understanding, Dari (Persian). These latter people share their origins and culture with their neighbours north of the Amu River in the Soviet Union. I confess that my knowledge of these people was sadly deficient when I was appointed to oversee their armed struggle against communism. My foremost task, on assuming my duties, was to get to know my men.
Understanding the Afghan guerrilla fighter was to be a continuing process. Only after I had met many, seen them under training, watched them in action, discussed their problems with them and visited their bases inside Afghanistan did they gain enough confidence in me for them to listen when I tried to influence them in their conduct of battle. Even then, I was still sometimes politely ignored. To start with I expected too much. It took a while to adjust to the fact that I was no longer ‘commanding’ regular soldiers, but rather ‘guiding’ guerrillas. It was a fascinating process of learning. I have an immense admiration for the Afghan warrior. He has stood the test of time, he has never yet been conquered, and in 1980 he took on the Soviets, and in eight years forced them out of his country, an achievement second to none. Nevertheless he is no superman. He has, like most of us, his faults, mostly associated with inflexibility. Because I feel it is important for the
reader to ‘know’ the Afghan, even if only slightly, at the outset, I have assembled together in the first part of this chapter some clues as to his character.
A small group of Afghans clustered around a wood fire, arguing. Two of them were disputing as to who was the bravest. To prove his point, one of them leaned forward and thrust his hand into the fire. He held it there, with the flames eating at his flesh. Despite the excruciating agony he made no sound, only the locked jaw, the screwing up of the eyes, and the slight shaking of his arm, indicated the supreme effort of will necessary to conquer the pain. For a few moments he kept it roasting in front of his audience. When he pulled back his hand it was bright red, dripping fluid. The man had established his courage.
Courage, physical courage, is central to the Afghan character. The incident described above actually happened, although it is an extreme example. This man was certainly overcoming fear, which is what courage is all about, but he was demonstrating a special facet of Afghan bravery — the ability to suffer pain stoically, without fuss, and silently. It is deemed unmanly for an Afghan to cry out, or scream, if gravely injured. This is inculcated into his character as a child, as a part of his upbringing. Cuff a five year old Afghan boy and tears will flow as other children, but hit the same child at seven and he will hardly flinch. To be without courage is abhorrent; such a person is despised.
Mujahideen wounded in the war faced the most daunting journeys on makeshift stretchers, or strapped to the back of horses, for days, sometimes weeks on end, over the mountains to Pakistan in search of medical treatment. Not for them the swift flight in a helicopter to a hospital miles from the fighting, as is normal with modern conventional armies. For guerrillas the time between being hit and receiving qualified medical attention is more often measured in days, rather than minutes. Amputations without anaesthetics were commonplace, using a knife, or even an axe, to chop off a mangled foot or leg. Many died of shock. I remember one Commander requesting, as a priority item, a surgeon’s saw so that operations could be slightly less brutal and bloody. It was pure coincidence that this appeal came from a Commander nicknamed ‘The Butcher’, for his propensity for executing captured KHAD agents by personally slitting their throats. Those wounded who lived endured the torment of every movement, every slight twist or turn, during their nightmare journey to a doctor. Seldom did they utter more than the occasional moan. This willpower, this refusal to give in, or show what they considered to be weakness, is a great virtue in any soldier.
I do not mean to imply that a Mujahid is never frightened. He knew fear, but not the fear of death. I found that most were afraid of mines, and were hesistant to attack posts closely protected by minefields. Their concern was living the life of a cripple, in a society where physical stamina and hardiness are indispensable. Mines tended to blow off feet, or legs, or hands, not kill.
How could a man raise his family, tend his sheep, build his house and climb the hills without his legs? The prospect of such a life was infinitely more frightening than death on the battlefield.
The combination of courage, and their fervent religious belief in the cause for which they fought, made the Mujahideen formidable warriors to defeat. They were fighting a Jehad — a Holy War — a crusade against unbelievers, Kafirs, as they were called. As devout Muslims they knew and followed the teachings of the Holy Koran literally. Once a Jehad was declared by their religious leaders it was the duty of all men to fight, to save their faith, to defend their honour, to protect their independence, and to guard their land and families. Age was of no importance in joining a Jehad. Boys of 13 or 14 and men in their sixties or seventies, with snow-white beards, frequently fought side by side.
The call to arms against the communists, against invading infidels, was the major unifying factor that held together the different tribes. While the Soviets, and their Afghan allies, remained in the country the Mujahideen could sink some of their internal differences to combine against a common enemy. Not that feuding was ended, far from it, but rather that the divisive effects of their tribal quarrels, jealousies and hatreds could sometimes be temporarily contained by an appeal to Islam — to the overriding demands of the Jehad.
Mujahideen means Soldiers of God — those who fight for Allah in his war against unbelievers. It is an honour, a duty that is welcomed by the true Muslim. Unless you fight in a Jehad you cannot be a Mujahid. The Holy Koran states that a man killed in a Jehad becomes a Shaheed, a martyr. Commanders would never report that they had had so many killed in an operation, but rather that, ‘God be praised, we had five Shaheed’. The Mujahideen’s willingness to die in battle stems from the promise by Allah that Shaheeds go immediately to Paradise. No matter how many sins they have committed in this life, to die as a Soldier of God ensures complete forgiveness. A special place in Paradise is assured. Shaheeds are buried as they fall, in the clothes that they died in, bodies bloodied and unwashed, and without coffms. They go to Allah exactly as they died for their faith. There is no greater glory for the Muslim warrior.
It is not only the man who dies in a Jehad that is venerated. There is reward also for those who fight and live. Such a person is called a Ghazi, and Islam promises him rich rewards in Paradise. According to the prophet (peace be upon him) the Mujahid who spends one night on guard duty has performed equally with the ordinary man who prays for a thousand nights.
The battle cry of the Mujahideen is ‘Allah o Akbar’— God is Great. They will shout this as they rush forward, as they fire their weapons, when they see a target hit, even on training when no enemy is in sight. It
is a cry that has been heard down the centuries. Still today it can inspire the modern Mujahid, as it did his great-great-grandfather amongst the same crags and rocks when he confronted the British invader.
Not every male is fighting as a Mujahid at the same time. Within every family there is a system of dividing up the military and civil responsibilities of the menfolk. Mujahideen are volunteers who receive no pay, but a man may spend only three or four months in the field, and the remainder of the year as a shopkeeper, a farmer, on contract work in Iran, or perhaps in a refugee camp caring for the womenfolk of several families. When a man feels he has had enough he goes home and is replaced, eventually, by another relative. Thus, a Commander might boast 10,000 men under his control, but in practice it is unlikely, unless there is a major offensive under way, that he could muster more than 2000.
Most Afghans try to live up to their code of honour – Pushtunwali. Aside from courage there are two aspects of this code – vengeance and hospitality. ‘Badal’ is the Pushtu word for vengeance. The need to secure revenge for any slight, any insult, has been a part of the Afghan’s life throughout his history. Blood feuds between individuals, between families, and between clans or tribes, are endemic. The Afghan will never turn the other cheek, a killing must be avenged by a killing, and so it goes on from generation to generation. A family will never forget a debt of honour. Revenge may not be swift, the injured party may bide his time for years if need be, until at the right moment he strikes. A son must kill his father’s murderer. In many instances his mother will insist he does so, otherwise she will disown him and he will be disgraced. If the murderer himself is dead, then his son, or his brother, or his uncle, must die. Thus is the feud perpetuated. Even a Jehad does not stop badal.
Sometimes hospitality clashes with vengeance. To refuse a person shelter, or sanctuary, is unthinkable to an Afghan. Even if the person seeking hospitality is a bitter enemy he cannot be refused. While in that man’s house he is absolutely safe; his host would fight to protect him, give him the choicest food, and treat him as a member of his close family. In an Afghan’s home, even the poorest one, a guest will receive the best. If this entails killing an only sheep, so be it; no effort, no sacrifice is spared. A stranger, particularly a foreigner, sitting down to eat with a group of Afghans from the large communal pot will get the meatiest portions handed to him without hesitation.
Add to the above the Afghan’s hardy physique, his ability to endure privations, his great resilience, and you have the makings of a first-class guerrilla soldier. Peacetime life is tough, the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan are an exacting, severe environment. A summer temperature of 130 degrees fahrenheit is commonplace, while in winter, in the high mountains, 20-30 degrees of frost is normal. Many peaks of the Hindu Kush
top 20,000 feet, and are forever capped with snow and ice. Their very name means ‘Hindu killer’, from the time when the people of Afghanistan raided the plains of India for slaves, many whom perished on the terrible march through these unyielding mountains. The endless stretch of sand and rock in the SW is aptly called Dasht-i-Margo — the Desert of Death. A hard country has bred a hard, proud and fierce people.
From the military point of view the Mujahid starts with substantial advantages. Physically he is better able to withstand the extremes of the terrain and climate than his much softer Soviet opponent. He is fighting for his faith, his freedom, and for his family, which gives him an enormous moral ascendancy.
In practical terms the Mujahid can live off the land, or rather from the villages, until the Soviet scorched earth policy became widespread. Even when he takes rations on the march all he needs is nan (flat bread) and tea to sustain him for days on end. The fatty bread is carried wrapped in a blanket, or cloth, and becomes rotten with age, making it the most revolting of meals. Nevertheless, it is eaten. The Mujahideen can walk for days, even weeks, on the minimum of food; then, when the opportunity comes, they will stuff themselves with huge quantities, stocking themselves up like camels for the next journey.
An Afghan man rarely goes unarmed, even in peacetime. To him his rifle is a part of his body, a piece of clothing without which he feels uncomfortable. A weapon to a man is like jewellery to a Western woman —he is rarely seen without it. It is a symbol of manhood. A favourite before the war was the old British .303 rifle, some dating back to World War 1, others copies made in Pakistan. Afghans buy and sell weapons as Americans do cars. This closeness to arms means that the Mujahideen take readily to training on new weapons, and usually obtain startlingly good results. On many occasions I came across trainees in Pakistan who had not got high enough shooting results who refused all food until, with extra practice, they improved. To be able to shoot straight is of far greater practical value than to be able to write. In their life the gun is mightier than the pen.
After their weapon, the next most valued possession is their blanket. It is usually a greyish-brown colour, and is used day and night for a wide number of purposes. The Mujahideen uses it as a coat, or cloak, for warmth in winter, or against the wind; they crouch under it to conceal themselves from enemy gunships, as it blends perfectly with the mud or rocks; they sleep on it; they use it as a sack; they spread it on the ground as a table cloth, or upon which to display their wares; often it becomes a makeshift stretcher and sometimes it is a rope; several times a day it becomes their prayer mat.
While I was with the ISI serious efforts were made to clothe the Mujahideen adequately to face the winter. The months from December to March were hardly conducive to living in the field, or even in caves, without
proper winter clothing. Even then, fighting died down in the winter and few operations were possible. An interesting sidelight on the question of clothing concerned boots. Normally the Afghan wore open sandals, which were totally unacceptable in the snow, but we found that the issue of boots was not initially popular. The reason was that the army boot has numerous lace holes, which meant that putting them on, and taking them off, was a time-consuming business. For the Mujahid, who was expected to remove his boots and wash his feet five times a day before prayer, this was a not inconsiderable chore. We had to look for boots with only two lace holes.
It should not be thought that the Mujahideen were completely devoid of weaknesses as guerrilla soldiers. As I discovered, their rigidity, their resistance to change and proud inflexibility caused serious problems in the tactical field, apart from the endless bickering over imagined slights, and refusal to cooperate with other Parties or Commanders.
An example occurred in 1984 with the Soviet’s oil pipeline. This pipeline, that followed the Salang Highway to Bagram Air Base, was exposed above ground all the way, and as such was an obvious target for guerrilla attacks. But when I came to instruct Mujahideen Commanders on how to destroy it with the minimum of effort I came up against objections. I explained that this was a simple operation for a handful of men, or even one man on his own. The best way would be to approach silently at night, between the two guard posts which were always at least 500 metres apart, place the charge, set the time pencil and get out. Perhaps a few anti-personnel mines on the likely route of the repair party would improve things, and if necessary a group with a heavy machine gun (HMG) could cover the nearest post in case of trouble. My trainees refused to accept this. The posts were too close, they said.
To prove my point I organized a night exercise whereby two groups of trainees manned posts 500 metres apart, with the task of trying to hear another small party of four men who would, at some time during the night, crawl up and place charges. Needless to say the explosive was positioned without either post being aware. Still it was unacceptable: it could not be done in their area; there would be mines along the pipe; or the terrain was unsuitable.
In fact what was wrong with my method was that it lacked noise and excitement. It was not their way to fight, with no firing, no chance of inflicting casualties, no opportunity for personal glory and no booty. Their method was to bombard the posts with heavy weapons by night at long range, move closer to fire mortars, get 30-40 men to surround them, and at short range open up with machine guns, RPGs and RLs (rocket launchers). If the garrison withdrew, the posts were captured and the Mujahideen secured their loot in the form of rations, arms and ammunition, all of which could be used or sold. Then, only then, was the charge laid on the fuel pipeline. If the garrison stuck it out the pipeline remained untouched.
It often took a serious setback, with quite severe casualties, to force a Commander to review his methods. Like most soldiers the Mujahid hated digging. He was decidedly unhappy in a static defensive role; it was alien to his temperament; it restricted his freedom to move, and he could seldom be convinced of the need to construct overhead cover. Similarly his fieldcraft was often poor as he was disinclined to crawl, even when close to an enemy position. The hard stony ground, or the possibility of mines, may have had something to do with it, but I had the impression that it was a bit beneath his dignity. Walk, or crouch perhaps, but crawling was seldom acceptable.
In summary the Mujahideen have all the basic attributes of successful guerrilla fighters. They believe passionately in their cause; they are physically and mentally tough; they know their area of operations intimately; they are extremely courageous with an inbred affinity for weapons, and they operate from mountain areas which give them both sanctuary and succour. These virtues are tempered with the vices of obstinacy, and an apparently insatiable appetite for feuding amongst themselves. To defeat a superpower they needed four things: to sink their differences for the sake of the Jehad; an unassailable base area, which President Zia provided in Pakistan; adequate supplies of effective arms to wage the war; and proper training and advice on how to conduct operations. It was my responsibility to provide and coordinate the latter two.
Within a few days of taking over I was taken on tour to visit Peshawar to see for myself how this forward detachment of my Bureau worked, to be introduced to my staff, and, most important of all, to meet Party Leaders, their officials and any Commanders that might be there. They needed to see their new brigadier, and I had to make a start at getting to understand them.
Peshawar is the provincial capital of the NWFP. Like Quetta, it has always been a frontier town, always a centre of trade, always in a military area. Like its sister town in the south it sits close to a main route into Afghanistan — the Khyber Pass is only 40 kilometers away to the west. These days its people, its sights, its smells, and its stories, are from Afghanistan. The markets sell Afghan carpets, sheepskin clothing, brassware, and momentoes of the war. Souvenirs taken from dead Soviet soldiers were commonplace, with cap badges, belt buckles, uniform caps and fur hats displayed by the score, although the source of supply for these items has now dried up. From Peshawar all traffic westwards goes through the tribal areas, the homeland of the Pushtuns. They live on both sides of the Durand Line, they own land in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and they move between both countries about as casually as an American might travel between North and South Carolina. Peshawar lies at the western end of the Grand Trunk Road which, in the days of British India, stretched
back through Rawalpindi and Lahore to Delhi. Now Peshawar is surrounded by Afghan refugee camps, with Afghans outnumbering all other inhabitants.
Peshawar contains the heart of the Afghan resistance movement in exile. Here are the offices of its political Parties, here is its bureaucracy, here its Leaders live and work, here are its arms warehouses, from here the majority of its supplies are carried forward to border dumps and thence into Afghanistan. It is to here that Commanders and Mujahideen come for replenishment and news. It is Peshawar that attracts the journalists and the spies as a magnet attracts metal. For the latest gossip, rumour, report or whisper, you must start in Peshawar. Quetta also has branch offices of the Parties, warehouses, plus an ISI detachment, but they are on a smaller scale than in Peshawar.
For the sake of clarity I should explain again that reference to a Party means one of the seven Afghan resistance political parties, that were shortly to be formed into an alliance. The political heads of each Party are termed Leaders to distinguish them from the Mujahideen Commanders who actually commanded in the field. With one or two exceptions Leaders did not fight battles, although most went into Afghanistan from time to time to visit their senior Commanders at their bases. Like the majority of military forces the Mujahideen had their political bosses, from whom their Commanders were supposed to get their instructions, and who supplied them with the means to fight — money and arms. As I was to discover, the gap between those who fight and those who do not was difficult to bridge. Some of the Leaders were the subject of much criticism, if not contempt, for their soft living, smart cars and well-furnished villas. It was the age-old disdain of the soldier who risks his life and lives hard for the politician who does not. Enemy agents made the most of this suspicion. Behind this primitive command structure was the ISI, my Bureau in particular. Our task was to keep the Parties stocked with supplies, and somehow get all the different Parties and hundreds of Commanders, scattered all over Afghanistan, to fight effectively.
When I arrived in Peshawar on that first visit in late October, 1983, the Seven-Party Alliance had yet to be put together. Until the Quetta incident Commanders had usually received supplies direct from ISI, but the opportunities for corruption were so great, and with Commanders being so numerous, together with a multiplicity of small Parties, the system had become a nightmare. General Akhtar had managed to halt supplies to Commanders and channel them through the Parties, but there were still too many clamouring for recognition. It was plain to me that without some semblance of unity at the political level we could not begin to make improvements in the military field. My meetings in Peshawar were polite, but somewhat formal. I could only meet the Leaders separately. This was because they would not sit in the same room with each other. I had to be careful what I said, so as not to appear to be promising something to one
[Begin Graphic – Organizational Chart]
This chart shows the
POLITICAL-MILITARY CONTROL 1984-1987
[End Graphic – Organizational Chart]
Party or another. I was speaking to men who, although devout Muslims, although committed to the Jehad, were fuelled by personal rivalries, prejudices and hatreds, which often clouded their views and dictated their actions. I had to remember that first and foremost they were Afghans, then they were politicians with political ambitions, then they were fighting a war.
As the head of ISI General Akhtar could only devote some 50 per cent of his time to Afghanistan. Of that, I believe 75 per cent was spent in trying to achieve some sort of harmony between fractious Leaders. I was to be grateful to him in the coming years that, after approving a strategy in principle, he left me free to make the military decisions and solve the military problems, while he tackled the political ones.
By early 1984 General Akhtar was determined that some sort of formal affiance be formed by the Parties. Some recognized high-level body was vital to act as a filter for the supply of arms and money to the users, and through whom we could attempt to coordinate action inside Afghanistan. For weeks he fought his uphill struggle to get the Leaders to agree. Prince Turkie, the head of the Saudi Arabian intelligence services, who was also responsible for overseeing his government’s financial aid for the Jehad, was brought to Pakistan to address them. All to no avail. The Islamic Fundamentalists would not work with the more moderate Parties. It was then that President Zia intervened. Further meetings were convened and, after protracted talks had failed to reach agreement, Zia’s patience snapped, and he issued a directive at 2.00 am — the Parties were to form a Seven-Party Alliance and
issue a joint announcement to that effect within 72 hours. He did not say what he would do if they declined. The Leaders were well aware that without Pakistan’s, and that meant Zia’s, backing, everything was finished. Although the new Alliance was established, even at the last moment one Leader held out for a concession — and got it. It was accepted that important decisions be made unanimously rather than by a majority vote. Typical Afghan bargaining.
It was then a firm principle that every Commander must belong to one of the seven Parties, otherwise he got nothing from us at ISI — no arms, no ammunition and no training. Without these he could not exist, so he joined a Party, provided he could find one to accept him.
I was to have many meetings with Party Leaders during my time with ISI, discussing logistics and training, and coordinating operations, but I did most of my ‘nuts and bolts’ business with members of their Military Committee. This consisted of the military adviser or senior staff officer from each Party. I had arranged meetings with these men on a less formal basis before the Alliance came into being, but from then on I went to Peshawar at least monthly to see them. They were men who had either had military experience or had shown promise in this field. In time, no less than three former Afghan Army officers served on this committee. General Yahya Nauroz had once been Chief of the General Staff, Colonel Wardak had been a senior commander, and Captain Musa had come to the Mujahideen straight from the Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun. The ‘high command’ set-up of the Mujahideen is shown in outline diagrammatic form on page 39.
Although the Alliance was a significant breakthrough, our problems were not all solved, but they gradually become slightly less intractable. One underlying difficulty never went away — the split between the four Fundamentalist Parties and the Moderate Parties, of which there were three. Fundamentalist adherents differ from the Moderates in their attitude to Western influence on Islamic teachings. Both are Muslims, but the Fundamentalist is more rigid, more conservative and is opposed to accepting any aspect of the Western way of life. It is a question of degree. A Moderate can accept a woman in trousers, but not in a mini-skirt, a Fundamentalist cannot.
The best-known and most controversial Fundamentalist Leader is Gul Badin Hekmatyar. He was born in 1946, which makes him the youngest of the seven, and was educated at the Kabul Military School, and University, where he qualified as an engineer. He was jailed in 1972 for two years for anti-government (anti-communist) activities. I found him to be not only the youngest but also the toughest and most vigorous of all the Alliance Leaders. He is a staunch believer in an Islamic government for Afghanistan, an excellent administrator and, as far as I could discover, scrupulously honest. Despite his comparative wealth, he lives a frugal life. He is also ruthless,
arrogant, inflexible, a stern disciplinarian, and he does not get on with Americans.
Hekmatyar has never been forgiven by the US for his public refusal to meet President Reagan during a 1985 visit to New York to address the UN. It was seen as a major slap in the face for America who was supplying so much money to keep the fight going, yet here was a Mujahideen leader spurning the hand that fed him. Hekmatyar came under great pressure to relent, including telephone calls from other Leaders in Pakistan, who told him bluntly that he was doing enormous damage to the cause of Jehad in the West. He was unmoved. His argument was that to be seen having talks with Reagan would be playing into the hands of the KGB and Soviet propaganda, which claimed the war was not a Jehad, but rather an extension of US foreign policy. KGB and KHAD agents forever emphasized that the Americans were paying for Afghan to fight Afghan, making the Mujahideen not Soldiers of God but American stooges. Hekmatyar could not, or more likely would not, understand why US aid had to be so public. He knew he had to accept it, but wanted it covert, deniable, not obvious for the whole world to see. For him, like many Afghans, it was humiliating to acknowledge publicly his indebtedness to a non-Muslim. America’s apparent craving for gratitude was incomprehensible. It does appear to indicate a general lack of understanding on the part of the US in its dealings with the East. Aid donations are publicized so much that the receiver loses face and becomes resentful rather than grateful.
Personally, I felt Hekmatyar made a grave error of judgement and that his action damaged the cause of Jehad, confirming the US in its view that such men in power in Kabul would be as dangerous as the communists. I am convinced this incident coloured their thinking when the Soviets eventually withdrew and decisions had to be made as to American policy in the latter stages of the war. But it was not in Hekmatyar’s character to bend.
The other Fundamentalist Leaders are Molvi Khalis, Professor Rabbani and Professor Sayaf. Khalis, although nearly seventy, still used to venture deep into Afghanistan. Rabbani is a Tajik, a scholar and great linguist, being able to speak six languages. Sayaf is a highly respected intellectual, with strong support from Saudi Arabia, whose government awarded him the King Faisal Intellectual Prize in 1985.
I did not realize it at the time but part of the problem was lack of communication between the US and Fundamentalist Leaders, who seldom travelled to the US, unlike the Moderates, such as Gailani and Mujaddadi, who went every six months or so — all expenses paid. The Americans, understandably, wanted to see how their money was being spent, they wanted to control things, to interfere; indeed, they felt they had a right to do so. This argument cut no ice with the Fundamentalists. They remained convinced that US help was entirely politically motivated, it was convenient
for them to pay for somebody else to take a crack at the Soviets, and thus get even for their humbling in Vietnam. As somebody who got to know senior officials on both sides of what became a serious controversy, I feel the Fundamentalists were correct in their assessment of American motives, but foolish to make their opinions so obvious, as without full US support the Jehad did not, and still cannot, succeed.
The Moderates are led by Molvi Nabi, Pir Gailani and Hazrat Mujaddadi. The first-named is a weak Leader, who leaves the running of Party affairs to his two sons, both of whom have been accused of retaining funds due to Commanders. The eldest son was involved in the Quetta incident mentioned earlier. Gailani is a soft-spoken, liberal democrat, fond of an easy life, who spends a considerable time abroad. He is not a forceful leader and seems to have little control over his Party bureaucracy. Mujaddadi is another linguist. He is also a prominent Islamic philosopher, whose main claim to fame was to serve„ four years in prison, three in solitary confinement, on charges of attempting to assassinate Nikita Khruschev during a visit to Kabul. He appears to be let down by his deputies and Party officials, over whom he seems to have little influence. Their dubious activities have now brought the Party into disrepute.
Another thing I learned during my first few months was that cooperation between Commanders in the field was not going to be achieved easily, even after the formation of the Alliance. Rivalries and petty jealousies between Commanders did not just go away because of the Alliance. In some ways it exacerbated the problem, as different Commanders from the same area would join different Parties, thus widening existing gaps between them. A Commander considered himself king in his area; he felt entitled to the support of the villages and to local taxes. He wanted the loot from attacking any nearby government post, and he wanted the heavy weapons to do it with, as they increased his chances of success and prestige, which in turn facilitated his recruiting a larger force. Such men often reacted violently to other commanders entering, passing through or ‘poaching’ on their territory. I could foresee serious difficulties in coordinating joint operations. No Party had a monopoly of power within specific areas or provinces in Afghanistan, although some might predominate. For example, in Paktia Province Hekmatyar, Khalis, Sayaf and Gailani all had Commanders operating, but only if they combined could any large-scale operation be effective.
Each Commander had his own base, usually in the remoter mountain valleys, within or near small village communities, from which he received reinforcements, food, shelter and sometimes money. As each of the 325 districts had at least one local base, the total in the whole jumbled network could have been up to 4000. But bases, vital though they were, are static, and the Mujahideen were reluctant to move away to operate against a more important target. For months at a time the Mujahideen in remote areas were
not involved in any fighting, then perhaps came a sudden flare-up of violence. There seemed to be little planning, no discernible pattern to their activities; they fought when they saw an opportunity or they needed loot, and when the time suited them. I have summarized the political-military system of control and liaison for the period of my time with ISI on page 39. It looks neat and tidy as a diagram, but in practice it could get horribly confused.
I saw an example of this haphazard type of offensive around the small Afghan garrison towns of Urgun and Khost in the latter part of 1983. From August to November large numbers of Mujahideen attacked both towns, although Khost was not actually captured. When the government forces counter-attacked, just before the onset of winter, they opened up the road against little opposition. The Mujahideen around Khost preferred to move across to nearby Urgun in case it fell without their help, which would render them ineligible for any share of the loot. It was typical tribal fighting for immediate tangible gains, localized in area, and with no higher strategic objective.
Another critical factor that struck me about the war was that it would be a slow one. I could see that everything took time to decide, to discuss, to get moving. The Afghan is infinitely patient, there is seldom a rush, time is of little consequence to him. Things might get done, but slowly; normal military timetables were not going to work. I had no illusions that I could hurry them up. I was about to control a guerrilla army whose speed on the ground was measured in terms of how fast a man, or a horse, could walk across difficult terrain. The point was, however, that this gave them greater mobility than road-bound convoys or heavily armoured vehicles.
By the winter of 1984 (winter is from December until March) I had acquired, though personal contact, visits and briefings, some understanding of the military capabilities, weaknesses and potential of the Mujahideen. I knew their command system through which I would have to work and I was confident that I could have meaningful discussions with General Akhtar, and my staff, on how we might enhance their effectiveness as guerrillas.
Next, I turned to look at the enemy.