By: Bernard-Henri Lévy/WSJ
The explosion occurred a couple of hours earlier. A suicide automotive bomber double-parked on a buying avenue. When the convoy handed carrying Vice President Amrullah Saleh, recognized for his anti-Taliban militancy, the driving force pulled up alongside Mr. Saleh’s armored automotive. Ten individuals had been killed and 15 wounded. The VP survived with burns to his palms and face.
Thanks, Taliban. An effective affirmation of the dedication you made prematurely of the peace talks that can start in Doha, Qatar, the day after the Kabul bombing, to stop what you could have the temerity to name “the combating.”
Ahmad Muslem Hayat takes within the scene of the overwhelmed police, encourages the impoundment crews which can be utilizing cranes to take away deserted autos, lends a hand to a rescue workforce because it pulls from the wreckage a toddler whose respiration is a dying rattle. Mr. Hayat, who served as head safety officer below the legendary commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, has simply returned from London to offer safety for my reporting journey. “The identical previous story,” he growls. “They’re too cowardly to assert 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 below the load 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 at this time’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 automobile 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 previous 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 driving force. Then, seeing that the site visitors is blocked and we’re not shifting 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 previous enemy, radical Islamist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was shelling town from the hills,
I am going from home to accommodate, displaying occupants a previous picture 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 individuals appear much less hostile and, curiously, quite completely happy about “Massoud Day,” regardless that he was a Tajik.
“You’ll discover the home you’re in search of 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 couple of bodyguards. “No, it’s down there,” says the neighborhood council head, whom somebody had roused from a nap behind his store atop a shaky iron stairway. A junk supplier in the end leads us by way of a labyrinth of laundry traces to what was the residence of Mola Shams. the place a industrial heart is now sprouting up.
I don’t have time to study extra in regards to the destiny of the wounded mujahedeen fighter, as a result of our environment have develop into worrisome. We move drugged-out adolescents, ladies encased in burqas. An informer comes to inform Mr. Hayat that individuals are starting to marvel in regards to the foreigner who’s asking impertinent questions.
I lived within the French Embassy in early 2002, after President Jacques Chirac requested me to organize a proposal on a French contribution to rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan and eradicating the Taliban. Practically 20 years later, the place will we stand?
The excellent news is that France has an envoy, David Martinon, who spares no effort to persuade the Afghans that it could be suicidal to yield to Islamist blackmail. The unhealthy information is that his dedication 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 assist employee, in Ghazni.
Extra unhealthy information is that since a 2017 truck-bomb assault close to the embassy, the beautiful white residence that we used to enter and exit and not using a second thought has develop into a fortress protected by a posh of partitions, sliding metallic gates, concrete blocks, grates and watchtowers. The ambassador lives there in a state of warfare, 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 isn’t 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 certainly one of Massoud’s bravest lieutenants.
Mr. Abdullah ends the night taking us by way of room after room, every with partitions of pictures 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 warfare have exhausted it and we now have to offer peace an opportunity. Then, amassing himself and seemingly full of an historical rage, he says of the 2001 assassins: “Have you learnt that these canines stalled for a month? That the entire operation was presupposed 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 is not going to yield in Qatar.
Two days later, we make our strategy to Panjshir province, north and east of Kabul. The Afghan safety companies being filled with double brokers, the information of our motion leaked. So now it’s battle stations on pro-Taliban social networks. Alongside the street crossing the Shomali Plain, which Afghan military has hassle controlling, enemy checkpoints are a chance. Mr. Mohseni, the TOLONews proprietor, has secured a helicopter, which flies us to Bazarak.
Way back I arrived right here with Ahmad Shah Massoud. As we speak 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 warfare memoirs that I had introduced as a present for his father. Twenty-two years later, together with his well-groomed beard and critical, almond-shaped eyes, he appears to be like just like the elder Massoud’s reincarnation.
Mr. Massoud tells me in regards to the final time he noticed his father. He sensed his father’s unwonted manner 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 very dependable account. In line 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 nearly instantly—however he had the power to name two guards spared by the explosion and get them organized 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. Nearly 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 needed 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 friends. 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 thrice and scores three bull’s-eyes. He didn’t develop into an elite marksman accidentally. After his father’s homicide, he was exfiltrated to Iran after which to England, the place he grew to become 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 rejoice the reminiscence of the Lion of Panjshir. There I glimpse one other facet of this prodigious younger man. He’s eloquent, an impressed, lyrical orator, talking on behalf of not solely his Panjshiri brothers however the complete Afghan nation. He praises France, which by no means deserted this individuals of potters, nomads, shepherds and poets. Mr. Massoud offers 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 getting into Sandhurst, at King’s School London, which instilled in me the behavior of wanting every night time on the sky and its constellations. Which means, opposite to what you mentioned earlier on the mausoleum, I used to be not lower out for political motion. However somebody needed to decide up the torch. The hope my wonderful father embodied couldn’t be allowed to die out. So, sure, for that cause, and for that cause 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 individuals 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 needed? And are there ideas—beginning with ladies’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 examine the warlords who, within the face of the Taliban peril, are solely hulks of their former selves? Is it attainable 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.