August 29, 2021

A Nation Betrayed: The Afghan Plan To Save Afghanistan That Was Vetoed By The CIA

Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated on September 9, 2001 by the CIA and ISI.
Abdul Haq was assassinated on October 26, 2001 by the CIA and ISI.

"It is a common mistake in going to war to begin at the wrong end, to act first, and wait for disaster to discuss the matter." - Thucydides.

The mujahideen generation, the anti-Soviet fighters who liberated Afghanistan from a communist dictatorship, were sold as the Afghan equivalents of the American founding fathers in the press in the 1980s.

That romantic notion quickly evaporated in the 1990s when their various militias jostled for power, killing thousands of innocents in the process. It became apparent they had more in common with African warlords than American statesmen.

But two of the brightest lights of that generation, Ahmad Shah Massoud and Abdul Haq, who earned the nicknames the 'Lion of Panjshir' and 'Lion of Kabul,' during the years of the occupation, were different from the rest. 

They were independent from Pakistan and they knew that its dangerous designs for their country would spell trouble for the Afghan people and the rest of the world.

They possessed the qualities of leadership that are necessary to lead in a war-torn country. For the most part they exercised power with intelligence, foresight, and humility. 

They also had the reputation of being victorious and self-sacrificing warriors so their words would carry great weight in any new Afghan National Army.

Massoud was not perfect by any means, he committed atrocities against the Hazara, but when compared to the other mujahideen commanders he was much better.

Together, their resumes were unmatched in the Afghan political landscape. It was Afghanistan's bad luck that both men were killed within days of the September 11 attacks and subsequent NATO invasion in October. 

Officially it is said their deaths came at the hands of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but the CIA and ISI are more credible culprits for the assassinations. They had a political motive to get rid of them. They couldn't tolerate independent, strong, progressive, and popular Afghan leaders. That was true then and it is true now. 

Donatella Lorch, a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, wrote in an article published on September 24, 2018 for Global Geneva called, "Abdul Haq: the Afghan commander who could have led to peace":

Unlike Abdul Haq, many of the Afghan mujahed politicians dating back to the 1980s became, after the overthrow of the communist regime – and especially after 9/11 – deeply corrupt, lavishly wealthy and powerful. 

...Abdul Haq was a pragmatist with a long-term vision. But he didn’t want the Pakistanis or the Americans to control him. So in death as in life, they belittled his role. 

...both Abdul Haq and Massoud (who met with US officials in Paris in April 2001) had warned the West that a military intervention would only provoke more war.  The end result is that – looking back today – little or nothing has been achieved. And a huge opportunity was lost.

Haq had a plan to save Afghanistan and eject the Taliban that didn't involve American boots on the ground. He enlisted Massoud in his campaign, as well as several other important political and military figures, including high-ranking Taliban members who were ready to defect. 

But the U.S.-led invasion turned his plan upside down.

Below are excerpts from the 2003 BBC documentary about Haq, available on YouTube, called, "Afghan Warrior: The Life and Death of Abdul Haq":

HAQ: We did not have one strong political structure to finally take advantage of the victory. . . We military commanders did our job. We fight with the enemy and we defeated the enemy. Now we want to make a political program or solution amongst the resistance for the future of the country. We need a structure which is not based on the gun, not based on killing, not based on hateness. It is a structure to put the nation back together and bring peace and security.

NARRATOR: Haq wanted the commanders to unite to create a broad-based government where all ethnic groups would be fairly represented. This brought Haq back into conflict with his old adversary, Pakistan.

JOURNALIST AHMED RASHID: Abdul Haq went around inside the country, meeting commanders and trying to bring them into an ashura or a council. ISI tried to block this because they didn't want some alternative group to emerge. No consensus was allowed to be built amongst the commanders because of the ISI's refusal to allow it to happen." (39:00 - 40:00).

RASHID: "I think he had developed a very modern vision of how he wanted to see Afghanistan. It was a democratic vision, a modern vision, a multi-ethnic vision."
HAQ: This is the first time, after so many years of fighting and killing, the Afghans from south, from north, from east, from different tribes, from different religious backgrounds, they're coming together to say war is not a solution. I think we need unity and we need development and we need a system in which people can live like a human being and can give their opinion, and choose their government." (46:00).
NARRATOR: At the same time as Haq moved back onto the political stage, two Americans were lobbying the U.S. government to support an alternative to the Taliban. Joe and James Ritchie, who had been born in Afghanistan to missionary parents, were self-made millionaires who had been trying to use their money to help the country. They met Haq and realized that he was the one man who shared their ideals and had a realistic plan to topple the regime. 
JOE RITCHIE: His plan was to capitalize on the fact that, first of all he had lots of guys that were clearly opposed to the Taliban, but within in the Taliban he had large numbers of people ready to defect on signal.
NARRATOR: Haq and the Ritchies then developed a two-pronged strategy. The first involved a military campaign using Taliban defections. The second involved getting the former king, Zahir Shah, to head a united political front from all ethnic groups. 
Needing help to develop and promote Haq's plan in Washington, Joe Ritchie contacted Bud MacFarlane who worked with President Reagan in the 1980s. 
ROBERT MACFARLANE: I had a lot of confidence in Abdul Haq, but the Taliban was a force of 25,000 people and I thought he needed support, militarily and financially, to be able to take them on. 
RITCHIE: Well, we proceeded to try to bring this to the attention of everybody we could, in the White House, in the State Department, in the CIA, in the Defense Department, who Abdul Haq was, what his plan was, thinking that when they saw a network like this that they would be pretty eager to find a way to help out. 
NARRATOR: Although Haq's plan received encouragement from all the government departments, in each case Bud and Joe were referred to the CIA. But the CIA’S response wasn't one they were expecting.
MACFARLANE: I listened in disbelief at what I was hearing. Not only did they imply that the United States' interests weren't clear, but they even assumed that perhaps our policy would be to engage with the Taliban, and try to fashion a modus vivendi with this cabal of brutal people
NARRATOR: Dealing with the Taliban, the host of terrorism, still seemed to be an option for the CIA. But Abdul Haq wouldn't give up on Western support for the overthrow of the regime, who was still being supplied with arms, money, and men by Pakistan. The Taliban needed this support for their ongoing war with Massoud's Northern Alliance, who formed the last remaining opposition in the country.
Haq wanted to widen his strategy to include Massoud's forces and he asked Peter Thomsen, the former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan, and a friend of Massoud, to help bring the alliance on board.
THOMSEN: We went up to meet Ahmad Shah Massoud on the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border. Massoud enthusiastically supported our approach. When we left I stopped and sent back secret messages to Washington, comprehensively describing what happened. I then went back and briefed the State Department. The reaction was non-response. No follow-up. It's nice to hear what you have to say, thank you very much, now go home." (47:00 - 51:00).
NARRATOR: Joe Ritchie and Bud MacFarlane had been waiting outside the State Department to brief them about Haq's plans when the planes had struck. Their meeting that day was canceled but they thought that finally the U.S. government would want to listen.
RITCHIE: I couldn't have imagined a platter more ideally loaded for what the folks in Washington needed. I mean, here you had the Afghan commander who had pulled together more other commanders than anyone in the history of the war. He shown the most courage. He had been the best at this kind of behind the lines warfare by far. He had a plan that didn't involve risking a single American life. The Afghans themselves were taking all the risks. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. 
NARRATOR: Bud MacFarlane then put in a call to President Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

MACFARLANE: Joe and I went to see Steve Hadley, who was Condi Rice's deputy, and expained the two pillars of this strategy, the loya jirga path, and the military operations, and that we needed some help in getting the CIA to pay attention here. And he said I will help. 

NARRATOR: The White House set up an urgent meeting with the Executive Director of the CIA. The Agency listened to the plan and promised to get back to MacFarlane.

MACFARLANE: There was no follow-up. His subordinates simply disdained the value of Abdul Haq and said that they didn't have any role to play in the political dimension of it. It was just an outrageous performance. (54:00).

NARRATOR: The CIA denied Haq the chance to allow the Afghan themselves to mount their own campaign. Instead, the U.S. and British governments relied on the one thing that Haq tried so hard to avoid: the bombing of Afghanistan by foreign powers. 50 cruise missiles were launched on the first night, side by side with bombing raids against Taliban and al Qaeda positions.

But while understanding the need for revenge, Abdul Haq felt that the bombing would make the removal of the Taliban more difficult.

RITCHIE: He felt that the bombing had a pretty significant detrimental effect in terms of, well, it rallied people in some ways to support the Taliban. Once it was viewed as an American action, that made things a lot tougher from the standpoint of the real Afghans that wanted their country back because now there was this split feeling about who were the good guys and the bad guys." (Part 2, 1:00 - 2:30).

TOMSEN: It was a lost chance in 92. We walked away. And it was a lost chance during this period. If we would have responded creatively, energetically, we could've succeeded. Again, because the great majority of Afghan people supported this approach. Instead, we continue to outsource our policy to Pakistan to the great disadvantage of U.S. interests, and Western interests, and indeed world peace and security." (Part 2, 18:00).

The CIA's dismissal of Haq's plan was not based on any strategic or political calculations, but on a grudge that they developed against him because of his independence.

Lucy Morgan Edwards, author of "The Afghan Solution: the Inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and How Western Hubris Lost Afghanistan" wrote about Haq's plan and the consequences of the CIA's rejection of it in her article for New Statesman, published on November 10, 2011, called, "The lost lion of Kabul":

"He walked with a distinctive gait, having lost a foot to a Soviet landmine while conducting an operation - and yet CIA officers who lingered in the comfort of Islamabad, as the war took place across the border in Afghanistan in the 1980s, referred to him snidely as “Hollywood Haq”. This was an attempt to diminish him, because he spoke out to journalists against the folly of the CIA’s policy of channelling its Afghan war chest through the Pakistani secret service, the ISI. As a veteran journalist later told me: “The cure was so simple: do not rely on single-source intelligence. But the US did; they relied on ISI, fundamentalists with political agendas.”

...The US could have saved Haq but did not attempt to do so; as a CIA agent told a well-connected journalist at the time: "Let the one-legged bastard walk out of Afghanistan." Even after his death, the cities along the Taliban backbone of the country, lying in an arc from the south to the east, fell swiftly to his men. Yet just as Haq had foreseen, the Allied bombing of the country enabled the Tajiks to take Kabul and gain control of most of the power ministries and security infrastructure. They argued against including moderate Taliban in the government from the outset.

Over the coming days, the small window of opportunity that had existed to achieve a more ethnically balanced post-Taliban political settlement between the September 2001 attacks and the fall of Kabul closed. The former king was swiftly sidelined and humiliated, while the CIA - already distributing sacks of cash to commanders on the ground - was able, with Haq out of the way, to do things its way. The Americans in effect "bought" the short-term goodwill of strongmen.

America's military defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of Pakistan and its proxy the Taliban could have been prevented if the CIA listened to Haq and pursued an Afghan-led solution.

Instead, they blindly dropped bombs, handed out money to psychopathic thugs, and put fools like Karzai and Ghani in power. Trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives were needlessly wasted.