Updated: September 18, 2021 7:22:33 am
On July 30, during a webinar on the perilous future of Afghanistan, Fahim Dashty, one of the two Afghans on the show, insisted that Kabul will never fall. When asked why districts were falling to the Taliban like ninepins, he blamed mismanagement by NSA Hamdullah Mohib. According to him, the Herat strongman Ismail Khan had called the collapse of districts, “a conspiracy”. Dashty was precise and concise. He was smoking and smiling which provoked someone from the audience to object. I did not have the heart to stop him. Dashty was fearless, frank and frills-free, wearing his Tajik headgear at a rakish angle with the Kabuli scarf flung around his neck. I got to know him on the Track II circuit covering Afghanistan, for nearly 20 years.
Dashty was killed either on September 5 or 6 in Panjshir. It is believed he was taken out by a Pakistani drone that picked up his coordinates from his satellite phone through which, as a spokesperson for the National Resistance Forces (NRF), he was triumphantly announcing the pushback of the Taliban who had surrounded Panjshir Valley. The Valley had never before capitulated to either the Russians or Taliban. The Tajiks then had control not only over Panjshir but also Badakhshan province, which shares borders with China and Tajikistan. This land corridor ensured the Tajiks were connected with their kin in Tajikistan. But this time, the Taliban’s first conquest was the area surrounding Panjshir. The isolated valley could not hold on indefinitely.
Former Vice President Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud, the two Tajik leaders, live to fight another day, probably in Tajikistan. Massoud Jr is the son of the legendary Lion of Panjshir, Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was the leader of the Northern Alliance. He was assassinated on September 7, two days before 9/11, in his hideout by a Taliban/Al Qaeda human bomb. Dashty, a cousin of the Massouds, described how the assassin came disguised as a press person to interview Massoud. A hidden explosive device in the camera took his life. Dashty was badly wounded. Last month, in a symbolic gesture, the President of Tajikistan awarded his country’s highest award to Massoud Sr.
It was not easy taking Panjshir and required intervention by Pakistan’s Special Forces and Air Force at a time when it became imperative to show that the Taliban had full territorial control and that there was no leadership divide. Dashty was confident the NRF would hold and had hoped help would come from Iran and India. Iran condemned Pakistan for its intervention, but could do nothing more. The embryo of the resistance is alive in the vicinity and has the potential to revive as a full-blown armed opposition. Dashty was not a trained fighter and he used to ask me about India’s wars of 1965 and 1971 in which I had fought, and wondered why India never managed to cross the Indus or Durand Line to join hands with Afghan friends squeezing Pakistan. While he blamed Pakistan for its political and military meddling in Afghanistan, he was equally critical of India using Afghanistan soil for anti-Pakistan activities.
It was delightfully refreshing to listen to Dashty. Despite his plain speaking, he was much sought out by the media. The journalist in Dashty (President of Afghanistan Journalists Association, Kabul) stood out. On one rare occasion, he got embroiled in an argument with a Pakistani general not known for sobriety and prone to using Punjabi invective. Although the German convenor could not comprehend the root cause of conflict or the general’s ire, he decided to declare a break to restore order. Dashty rushed out of the room to have a cigarette. In the evening, I asked him what happened. He said: “General, I wanted to smoke!” The Tajik, Uzbek and Kazakh members of the regional group simply loved Dashty. After six years of work in several countries and a visit to NSC in the White House, two of the group’s recommendations were: One, making Afghanistan a neutral country, and; two, strict non-interference by neighbours to be monitored by the UN/SCO/SAARC. A grand bargain between Afghanistan and Pakistan was also considered. Unfettered access to Karachi for Kabul, in return for its recognition of the Durand Line.
Dashty’s legacy will live on due to his proximity to the Massoud clan. Before Dashty departed he told the BBC: “If we die in resistance, it is a win for us. History will write about us as people who stood for their country till the end of time.” As a friend and admirer, I hope the resistance lives and thrives to break the shackles of Taliban tyranny. Afghans yearn for peace, but as Dashty might have said, never under Taliban rule.
This column first appeared in the print edition on September 17, 2021 under the title ‘Voice of Panjshir’. The writer is a retired Major General of the Indian Army.
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