The explosion occurred a number of hours earlier. A suicide automobile bomber double-parked on a buying road. When the convoy handed carrying Vice President Amrullah Saleh, identified for his anti-Taliban militancy, the motive force pulled up alongside Mr. Saleh’s armored automobile. Ten folks had been killed and 15 wounded. The vp survived with burns to his arms and face.
Thanks, Taliban. A wonderful affirmation of the dedication you made prematurely of the peace talks that may start in Doha, Qatar, the day after the Kabul bombing, to stop what you may have the temerity to name “the preventing.”
Ahmad Muslem Hayat takes within the scene of the overwhelmed police, encourages the impoundment crews which might be utilizing cranes to take away deserted automobiles, lends a hand to a rescue workforce because it pulls from the wreckage a baby whose respiration is a dying rattle. Mr. Hayat, who served as head safety officer beneath the legendary commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, has simply returned from London to supply safety for my reporting journey. “The identical outdated story,” he growls. “They’re too cowardly to say the assault. They’ll pin it on al Qaeda or on the Pakistani Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Haqqani group. However all these are the Taliban’s beards. Put that in your article!”
In a Kabul groaning beneath the burden of refugees, the place foreigners haven’t been seen on the street since President Trump’s summer season announcement of the American withdrawal, carnage like as we speak’s can happen wherever at any time. So says Saad Mohseni, founding father of the TOLOnews tv channel, whose trendy studios are certain to be one of many Taliban’s first targets on its return.
By the window of my car I see an agitated man who, noticing us, makes the gesture of slitting his throat. A ragged peddler, sitting on the sidewalk beside a pile of cellphones, padlocks and outdated watches, pretends to coach a gun on our convoy. One other, hardly greater than a boy, sees that we’re photographing him and spits in our path. As we drive, Mr. Hayat doesn’t let go of the Kalashnikov mendacity between him and the motive force. Then, seeing that the site visitors is blocked and we’re now not transferring ahead, he suggests we go the remainder of the way in which on foot.
It’s Sept. 9, the 19th anniversary of Massoud’s assassination in 2001, when he was 48. I’ve come to this downtown neighborhood to seek out the home the place, in 1992, I accompanied him on a go to to a wounded member of the mujahedeen. Massoud was minister of protection on the time. His outdated enemy, radical Islamist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was shelling town from the hills,
I am going from home to deal with, exhibiting occupants an outdated photograph of Massoud on my phone. As we transfer away from the artery and into the maze of dusty, twisting streets of this Pashtun neighborhood, the folks appear much less hostile and, curiously, quite comfortable about “Massoud Day,” regardless that he was a Tajik.
“You’ll discover the home you’re searching for over there, simply after the bazaar,” says a grandfatherly man who recollects a neighbor named Mola Shams, whom Massoud, “sporting a protracted white coat,” had come to consolation in midwinter, accompanied by a number of bodyguards. “No, it’s down there,” says the neighborhood council head, whom somebody had roused from a nap at the back of his store atop a shaky iron stairway. A junk supplier finally leads us by way of a labyrinth of laundry traces to what was the residence of Mola Shams. the place a business heart is now sprouting up.
I don’t have time to be taught extra concerning the destiny of the wounded mujahedeen fighter, as a result of our environment have turn out to be worrisome. We cross drugged-out adolescents, girls encased in burqas. An informer comes to inform Mr. Hayat that individuals are starting to marvel concerning the foreigner who’s asking impertinent questions.
I lived within the French Embassy in early 2002, after President Jacques Chirac requested me to arrange a proposal on a French contribution to rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan and eradicating the Taliban. Almost 20 years later, the place can we stand?
The excellent news is that France has an envoy, David Martinon, who spares no effort to persuade the Afghans that it might be suicidal to yield to Islamist blackmail. The unhealthy information is that his willpower wasn’t sufficient to stop the key launch the earlier night time of the 2 males who in 2003 mounted bikes and gunned down Bettina Goislard, 29, a French support employee, in Ghazni.
Extra unhealthy information is that since a 2017 truck-bomb assault close to the embassy, the stunning white residence that we used to enter and exit with out a second thought has turn out to be a fortress protected by a fancy of partitions, sliding metallic gates, concrete blocks, grates and watchtowers. The ambassador lives there in a state of struggle, protected by two dozen elite counterterrorism personnel.
Abdullah Abdullah is the opposite president of Afghanistan. Not the vp however the rival president—the one who contested the victory of Ashraf Ghani within the 2019 election and took to bombarding the winner with vengeful communiqués. To mollify Mr. Abdullah, Mr. Ghani appointed him to move the delegation negotiating with the Taliban. However tonight, internet hosting us for dinner in his household dwelling, he’s not the Western-suited diplomat who will depart tomorrow for Doha, however the resistance fighter clad in conventional garb whom I met 30 years in the past within the Panjshir Valley, the place he was considered one of Massoud’s bravest lieutenants.
Mr. Abdullah ends the night taking us by way of room after room, every with partitions of images of himself and his chief, younger and in fight in opposition to the Soviets. Misplaced in reverie, he says little. Lastly I break the silence and ask about his technique with the Taliban—the foe that despatched two faux journalists armed with a rigged digital camera to assassinate Massoud.
Mr. Abdullah murmurs evasively that the nation can’t take any extra—that 40 years of struggle have exhausted it and we now have to provide peace an opportunity. Then, accumulating himself and seemingly stuffed with an historical rage, he says of the 2001 assassins: “Are you aware that these canines stalled for a month? That the entire operation was alleged to have gone down a lot sooner than it did? And that the chief himself, on the final minute, when the phony journalists thought it was by no means going to occur, remembered about them and determined to grant them the deadly interview?” That is Mr. Abdullah’s different face—the one I do know won’t yield in Qatar.
Two days later, we make our method to Panjshir province, north and east of Kabul. The Afghan safety companies being stuffed with double brokers, the information of our motion leaked. So now it’s battle stations on pro-Taliban social networks. Alongside the highway crossing the Shomali Plain, which Afghan military has hassle controlling, enemy checkpoints are a risk. Mr. Mohseni, the TOLONews proprietor, has secured a helicopter, which flies us to Bazarak.
Way back I arrived right here with Ahmad Shah Massoud. At this time I discover, ready to greet me, Ahmad Massoud—his son, 31. I can image him as a 9-year-old carrying into the household library the set of de Gaulle’s struggle memoirs that I had introduced as a present for his father. Twenty-two years later, along with his well-groomed beard and severe, almond-shaped eyes, he appears just like the elder Massoud’s reincarnation.
Mr. Massoud tells me concerning the final time he noticed his father. He sensed his father’s unwonted method of coming again for yet another hug, leaving once more, and returning as soon as extra. He tells about his father’s dying, of which I’ve by no means learn a really dependable account. In keeping with the elder Massoud’s senior secretary, who survived the assault, the commander’s good-looking face was riddled with bomb shards, his chest crushed, one eye blown out, a leg severed. He was killed virtually instantly—however he had the energy to name two guards spared by the explosion and organize them to hoist him up by the shoulder blades. There, standing upright for the final time, he gave up the ghost whereas reciting the shahadah, the prayer of the dying.
The younger Mr. Massoud, regardless of his filial devotion, didn’t invite me right here to dwell on the previous. Virtually instantly we head east towards Abshar, the place the Taliban final week launched an unprecedented assault on Panjshir. I watch him within the midst of his officers, a few of them sufficiently old to have served his father, all now on alert. He radiates authority as he tells them he wished neither to enter politics nor to take part in these weird peace negotiations, as a result of his place is right here with them, on the gates of the inviolate sanctuary of free Afghanistan.
On the backside of a vertiginous gorge, the time comes for the taking pictures contest, which his father additionally used to suggest to his visitors. The goal is a white pebble positioned on a ridge of ochre stone 75 yards away within the shadow of the mountain’s folds. My efficiency with a rifle has hardly improved over the intervening years, however Mr. Massoud goals 3 times and scores three bull’s-eyes. He didn’t turn out to be an elite marksman by chance. After his father’s homicide, he was exfiltrated to Iran after which to England, the place he turned a superb cadet on the Royal Army Academy Sandhurst, the place the British military’s elites are skilled.
Again in Bazarak on Sept. 11, officers await Mr. Massoud at his father’s tomb—together with delegations which have come from Kandahar and Jalalabad to have a good time the reminiscence of the Lion of Panjshir. There I glimpse one other aspect of this prodigious younger man. He’s eloquent, an impressed, lyrical orator, talking on behalf of not solely his Panjshiri brothers however the whole Afghan nation. He praises France, which by no means deserted this folks of potters, nomads, shepherds and poets. Mr. Massoud provides me the ground, and I pay tribute to him and his father.
Then we return to Mr. Massoud’s childhood dwelling and drink tea on the lengthy garnet sofas dealing with the river the place his father would meditate. “I like three issues on this world,” he says. “Books, gardens and the astronomy I discovered, earlier than coming into Sandhurst, at King’s Faculty London, which instilled in me the behavior of trying every night time on the sky and its constellations. Which means that, opposite to what you stated earlier on the mausoleum, I used to be not reduce out for political motion. However somebody needed to choose up the torch. The hope my wonderful father embodied couldn’t be allowed to die out. So, sure, for that motive, and for that motive alone, I’m able to take over.”
Earlier than leaving, I ask him three questions: Is he ready to declare, within the constitution of the motion he has created, that being the son of his father just isn’t sufficient and that his crown really belongs to not him however to the folks of the mujahedeen? Is he keen to announce that he seeks the votes of the Afghan nation to launch reforms that the nation’s feudal lords by no means wished? And are there rules—beginning with girls’s rights—on which no peacemaker shall be permitted to compromise so long as he lives?
He solutions every query within the affirmative, and in the identical clear, resonant voice his father used 22 years in the past when, amid the gathering storm, he got here to Paris at my invitation. Have we come to that time once more? May the younger Mr. Massoud have the ability to verify the warlords who, within the face of the Taliban peril, are solely hulks of their former selves? Is it doable that, on this final of the confrontations on which our joint destiny hinges, we now have a protagonist who will say no to obscurantism, to rule by homicide, and to the spirit of resignation? I fervently hope so.
Mr. Lévy is writer, most lately, of “The Virus within the Age of Insanity.” This text was translated from French by Steven B. Kennedy.
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