Iqbal Khattak talks to a Pakistani volunteer who was lucky to escape hours before the Northern Alliance entered Kabul
"I did not expect the Taliban leadership to abandon Kabul in such a hurry and let us down,” says a Pakistani volunteer from Bajaur Agency in the North West Frontier Province in Peshawar, after fleeing Kabul hours before the Northern Alliance entered the Afghan capital.
The Pakistani volunteer, one of the hundreds who crossed into Afghanistan to fight along the side of the Taliban, spoke about the events that followed the Islamic militia’s retreat and the Northern Alliance’s advance into Kabul in the early hours of Tuesday morning on November 6. The Alliance entered Kabul after the Taliban left the city in the dead of night despite earlier assurances to the Americans that it would not capture the city.
“That night I, along with other Pakistani and Arab volunteers, was asked to take control of the southern part of the city by our Taliban friends. We were never given the impression that the leadership had decided to abandon the city. But I was tipped off by a friend working in the intelligence service and that helped me escape arrest by the Alliance,” he told TFT. He was very clear about the fact that had he been captured, the NA soldiers would have executed him summarily.
This volunteer, who did not want his name released, recalled that after getting the information that the Taliban had decided to leave without a fight, he just sneaked out and did not even inform his companions about his desertion. “I took a car and left for Jalalabad. It was about 1:00 am when I left Kabul and asked the driver to just keep driving as fast as he could. It took me four hours to reach Jalalabad (capital of the eastern Nangarhar province),” the man, in his 30s, said, adding that he encountered some problems while crossing the frontlines of Kabul district but managed to get through without too much trouble.
This man was lucky. Other Pakistani and Arab volunteers were not. Reports reaching Peshawar say the Northern Alliance captured, tortured and executed a number of Pakistani and Arab fighters at Mazar-e-Sharif and later in Kabul. “Many non-Afghans were also captured and executed at various places between Mazar and Kabul as the NA troops advanced south after capturing the northern provinces,” says another source who has just returned from Afghanistan.
“Their [Taliban leadership] decision to retreat cannot be blamed considering the bombing they had to endure. But they could have put up a fight. I really wonder why Mullah Omar or Osama bin Laden decided to give up suddenly without resistance,” says an analyst in Peshawar.
The man who returned from Kabul also corroborates this version. “My heart bleeds for what is happening in Afghanistan now. Like the Taliban soldiers and the Arab fighters, I did not expect such a humiliation. We were told that the enemy forces would enter Kabul over our dead bodies. When I heard such morale-boosting words I thought the Islamic government of Afghanistan would put up a heroic resistance. But then everything collapsed,” he said.
He still thinks it’s a bad dream. “I still do not believe that it has happened. But it has. That’s a reality. It’s a great tragedy that the Taliban were left alone by everyone in the face of foreign aggression,” the Pakistani volunteer told TFT, tears trickling down his checks.
The Taliban behaviour has left many observers puzzled. “To me, it’s a great betrayal [by the Taliban and Osama] because these volunteers really wanted to fight until the very end. They [the volunteers] have been bitterly disappointed. My sympathies are with them,” an analyst who has long observed Afghanistan told TFT.
Most reports indicate the Afghan component of the Taliban army was the first to succumb. The non-Afghan volunteers are the one that wanted to fight on. The Taliban army besieged in Kunduz has a large percentage of non-Afghans. “Thousands of Pakistani, Arab and other non-Afghan fighters are stranded in Kunduz,” a journalist who has just returned from the area told TFT.
While the NA troops have let the Afghan Taliban alone in most cases, they have shown no mercy to the non-Afghans, hunting them down wherever they could and executing them. TFT has learnt that the NA commander leading his troops outside Kunduz has refused to allow safe passage to the non-Afghan Taliban supporters who want to leave the city and go to Kandahar which is being bombed by the Americans.
TFT has consistently noted a stream of Pakistani volunteers crossing into Afghanistan from the tribal areas to defend the Taliban against “American aggression.” Similarly, over the years, thousands of Arabs have joined the main Taliban force, conquering for the militia most of Afghanistan except some pockets in the north.
But it seems that this is the end of Taliban rule. Islamabad has already ordered the closure of the militia’s consulates in Peshawar and Quetta. Sources say this indicates that Islamabad is moving towards a formal “derecognition” of the militia.
But the Taliban collapse has not brought reprieve to Afghanistan. By all indications, the country has sunk deeper into chaos. “What I see does not give me reason to be optimistic,” Sayed Ishaq Gilani, nephew of the royalist movement leader, Pir Gilani, told TFT in Peshawar.
“The world should not trust the Northern Alliance. They never keep their promises and they have lost all credibility among the Afghans,” said Ishaq, who heads a National Solidarity Movement for Afghanistan. “The Americans made a mistake,” he said, arguing that the US provided the NA an opportunity to capture Kabul by bombing the Taliban frontlines.
Ishaq thinks Afghanistan will plunge into another round of civil war if the United Nations does not act fast and disarm the different warring groups. “We will face another civil war, worse than the previous one,” he told TFT.
Published in TheFridayTimes of Pakistan