Ashraf Ghani: The Pashtun Who Cut and Ran As Afghanistan Fell to Taliban
As Ghani fled and left Afghanistan burning, he shirked all Pashtunwali principles and the age-old code of honour.
Amongst the fierce Pashtuns, the Ahmadzais of the Ghilji (derived from Gharzay, or mountains, hence ‘hill people’) confederacy, have an illustrious history of valour and conquest. The Khilji dynasty that ruled the Delhi Sultanate between 1290 and 1320, was from the same stock. The Ghilji tribesmen were at the forefront of decimating the retreating 16,000 British East India Company soldiers, of whom only one was deliberately let off to tell the tale of Ghilji ferociousness — British survivor William Brydon, whose wartime accounts of the expeditionary force became part of oral tradition and folklore.
In more contemporary history, the former soldier, spymaster (Head of Intelligence) and later President, Mohammad Najibullah, was also an Ahmadzai. Najibullah was to ultimately meet a gruesome end at the hands of the Taliban, but importantly, Najibullah had stayed back in Kabul to fight the mujahedeen, till it was too late to escape. For four years, Najibullah stayed in the UN compound, and is believed to have been offered the opportunity to flee by Ahmed Shah Massoud as the Taliban were approaching Kabul in 1996. The proud Ahmadzai had apparently refused, and Ahmed Shah Massoud claims that Najibullah feared that “if he [Najibullah] fled with the Tajiks, he would be forever damned in the eyes of his fellow Pashtuns”.
Ghani, Who Fled vs Najibullah, Who Didn't
The Taliban were soon to ignore the sanctity of the UN compound and Najibullah was brutally tortured and killed, and later his mutilated body was buried in Gardez, Paktia Province, by his fellow Ahmadzai tribesmen. Later, many more Ahmadzais would emerge in the unforgiving swathes of the Afghan battlefield (on both the governmental and Taliban sides), such as the ‘Lion of Kabul’, Abdul Haq. Part of the moderate trinity of Afghan warlords, along with Ahmad Shah Massoud and Hamid Karzai, Abdul Haq fought gallantly against the Taliban and was arrested and killed by them in 2001. Ironically, even the penultimate Afghan Army Chief who was sacked days before the Taliban rolled into Kabul, was one Lt General Wali Ahmadzai.
Another Ahmadzai who was to assume the leadership position in Afghanistan was Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai. Unlike his decidedly more martial brethren, Ashraf Ghani was an academician-bureaucrat who was first elected as the President of Afghanistan in 2014. Unlike his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, who had fought in the Soviet-Afghan wars of the 1980s, and even unlike his later day political rival Abdullah Abdullah, who, too, had fought along with Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance, Ashraf Ghani was an oddity as a non-combatant leader in war-stricken Afghanistan. Unlike the whimsical and typically fearsome warlords of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani would make statements like, “I hope to win, through ideas”. But managing the Afghan narrative with irascible warlords, controversial presence of foreign troops, and an overzealous Pakistani “establishment” recklessly supporting the extremist Taliban and other terror groups, Ashraf Ghani was at his wit’s end, and the American troops’ pullback was the virtual death knell for his government.
Self-Preservation Trumps All
Ashraf Ghani was clearly not an Ahmadzai in the Mohammad Najibullah mould, and much before the Taliban entered Kabul, he fled ingloriously. The failed leader’s hasty escape led to many accusing him of “betrayal” (apparently made worse with credible murmurs of four cars stashed with money), an ultimate shame and humiliation in the age-old code of honour amongst the proud Pashtuns, i.e., Pashtunwali.
Some of the timeless and inviolable concepts enshrined in the Pashtunwali are ‘tura’ (bravery), ‘wapa’ (loyalty), ‘wyar’ (pride), ‘nang’ (honour), ‘merana’ (courage) and above all, ‘hewad’ (fidelity to the land of Pashtuns and its sacred codes) — all seemingly compromised by Ashraf Ghani in a blatantly cowardly attempt at self-preservation, whilst leaving his country and people in the hands of the revisionist Taliban.
It will be impossible for Ashraf Ghani to justify his actions, as it was the irrepressible colonist, Winston Churchill, who served in the region and had prophetically noted about the Pashtun character, “Every family cultivates its vendetta; every clan, its feud ... Nothing is ever forgotten and very few debts are left unpaid”. ‘Nyaw aw badal’ (revenge) is one of the most important principles in Pashtunwali; an in-exile Ashraf Ghani may be distant, protected and therefore physically safe, but he will never be forgotten in the deep recesses of the Afghan lands and its conscience, for time immemorial. Soon after the news of Ashraf Ghani’s departure broke out, the host of a popular channel bristled, “He will be known as the Benedict Arnold of Afghanistan. People will be spitting on his grave for another 100 years.”
Ghani Will Not Be Forgiven Or Forgotten
Amidst the doom and despair, one former leader who remained defiant against all odds was Ashraf Ghani’s First Vice-President (now self-claimed President), Amrullah Saleh, who tweeted cavalierly, “I will never, ever & under no circumstance bow to d (sic) Talib terrorists. I will never betray d (sic) soul & legacy of my hero Ahmad Shah Masoud, the commander, the legend & the guide.”
No such grandstanding was either forthcoming or will be afforded to Ashraf Ghani, who is supposedly in the United Arab Emirates on “humanitarian grounds”; he is not likely to be forgiven or forgotten, ever.
As his former rival and head of a panel that had negotiated with the Taliban, Abdullah Abdullah, tellingly said, “God will hold him accountable and the people will have their judgment.”
No one comes out looking good in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover, not the visibly clueless Joe Biden, scheming fellow-Pashtun and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, the boorish Talibanis patrolling the streets, nor perhaps the most despised man in Afghanistan currently, Ashraf Ghani, who let his nation and humanity down despicably, and especially those Pashtuns and other Afghans who were on his side, initially. Posterity will remember his last post where he posited his rhetorical question in the first sentence, i.e., “Today, I came across a hard choice…”. Sadly, he answered it with a very easy and convenient instinct — he simply fled.
(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is a Former Lt Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands & Puducherry. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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