Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Scholar dishes on Mujahedin and Taliban

As usual, journalist Chris Sands offers up a healthy dose of original and insightful reporting. Below, he interviews Nancy Hatch Dupree, widow of Louis Dupree the late dean of Afghanistan studies, who imparts some fascinating insider knowledge:

Witness to Afghanistan’s fall from grace
Chris Sands

KABUL, Apr 23 - When Nancy Hatch Dupree first came to Kabul in the 1960s, she saw a city that is unrecognisable now. Photographs from that time show a place of beauty and innocence, untouched by war...

[In the 1980's both she and her husband] befriended fundamentalist Mujahideen leaders who would later tear Kabul apart and, in some cases, fight US occupation.

“Then they were heroes. They were heroes. Even Gulbuddin Hekmatyar [a rebel commander now wanted by America], he was always open whenever Louis wanted to talk to him. He’d have a big joke with me and say, ‘I don’t really want you sitting here’, but I don’t know what else to do with you so sit there and shut up. He was popular cos’ he was the best organised,” she said.

“He wasn’t as rabid as he is now. I haven’t met him for years, not since Louis died. And I don’t know because I haven’t done any research on it, but I have a sense that he feels that he’s been badly treated because he was so strong at that time and now he’s a pariah.” ...

[The Taliban government] was initially welcomed by many Afghans and Mrs Dupree also remembers it with relative fondness.

I had a very good relationship with the Taliban. I try to tell people there were some who were very unpalatable and I am the first one to say that. But not all of them had horns and forked tails,” she said.

For years she was able to work with the help of a few key officials and send messages to Mullah Mohammed Omar whenever it seemed a historical monument might be in danger. Only later, when foreign jihadis led by Osama bin Laden exerted more of an influence, did the situation again take a turn for the worse.

“When they had that meeting about blowing up the [Buddhist statues in Bamiyan] it was no simple decision, it went on for the whole day. It was hardliners who were pushing for this and the others who were resisting and saying, ‘No, this is not what Islam teaches us’,” Mrs Dupree said.

“That was my indication that Mullah Omar had lost power and I felt so sorry for him. He was forced to give that order by the cabinet which was now in the hands of the hardliners.” ...

The 2001 US-led invasion was wrong, she said, and “an arbitrary thing, a knee-jerk reaction”. The high concrete blast walls, fortress-like embassies and mansions built on drug money that have sprung up under American occupation make her “madder than hell”... (link)