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A warrior turned peacemaker

Abdul Haq sought peace in his homeland, after gaining recognition for role in Afghan-Soviet war

Abdul Haq
Abdul Haq  

By Mike Chinoy
Senior CNN Asia Correspondent

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (CNN) -- He was a legendary guerrilla fighter, a commander around Kabul at the height of the anti-Soviet struggle. For the past decade, though, Abdul Haq lived in exile in Dubai before returning to Pakistan in late September.

After helping to defeat the Soviets, this former mujahedin commander laid down his arms and left Afghanistan in the early 1990s, disgusted by the warlords whose internal battles turned triumph into civil war and helped bring the Taliban to power.

He was one of the few anti-Soviet resistance leaders whose hands were still clean.

"The only way was to walk away and not be part of it, at least not to be part of the destruction and killing of my own people," Haq said.

Even after Haq walked away, however, violence followed him. His wife, 11-year-old son and a bodyguard were murdered in 1999 by gunmen in Peshawar.

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He got involved again, slipping into Afghanistan on Sunday on a peace mission on behalf of the exiled Afghan king. The Taliban arrested him on Friday and, after a brief trial on charges of being a spy, executed him Friday evening in Kabul.

Haq's appeal for a possible role in a post-Taliban coalition government was heightened because he was a Pashtun -- the largest of Afghanistan's ethnic group -- but had a reputation of reaching out to the rest of the population.

"To remove this anger and hateness which was created by past so many years anger of Pashtuns against Tajiks, Shia against Sunni, south against north [is] one of the most important things I am working on," he said in an interview in early October.

In his well-guarded headquarters in Peshawar after returning to the region, Haq was greeted by a steady stream of visitors since his return, including commanders who fought with him against the Soviets. Aides said he also met with disaffected Taliban officials, and recently visited Afghanistan's exiled King in Rome.

"We have one old king which is right now in Rome," Haq said. "There are so many tribesmen and commanders [that] are willing to help and support him," he said. "We are willing to discuss with Taliban -- there are so many inside Taliban commanders they are willing to help us."

According to well-placed sources, some U.S. officials believed Haq could have been the central figure in galvanizing a broad-based anti-Taliban force, which the Northern Alliance has failed to do.

The Northern Alliance is composed of mainly ethnic Tajik and Uzbek fighters. It also failed in its attempt to run the country between 1992 and 1996 and has been fighting against the Taliban since they took control in 1996. The alliance also lost its charismatic leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, when he was assassinated in early September, allegedly by two Arab men posing as journalists.

But Haq, as a veteran mujahedin commander, had warned Washington against military action inside Afghanistan.

"There's no command center they can bomb. What Afghanistan has is ... millions of mountains. Mountain after mountain after mountain," he said. "They are all full of caves and a place to hide, [which] we made for 14-20 years against the Russians. With bombing, you cannot find these people."

Instead, Haq believed the long-term solution was to build a new political structure for Afghanistan that would shut down the network of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

"If you have a government that does not support you, if you have a nation that does not support you, if you have a whole world against you, and if you have a government that is coming very strong with a good structure, I very strongly believe they have to go."

As a guerrilla commander, Haq was known for his fearlessness in battle. As he gathered his old comrades and sought new allies, his strategy was simple: marshal a strong enough force to convince the Taliban leadership to give up or else drive them from power.

"I never believe in fighting and killing. That's why I dropped my gun in '92. I don't think -- especially internally -- the solution is in gun and killing," he said. "But having a situation like Afghanistan, in which only guns talk, sometimes maybe you need to make force, you don't have to use it."


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