The Afghan Solution: the inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and how Western Hubris Lost Afghanistan

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  • The book is now being distributed worldwide by Pluto Press (contact Marston for trade orders) and by Palgrave Macmillan in the USA. ISBN 978-0-9568449-0-3.  Click on title above for reviews, synopsis and extracts of the book.

    This book reveals that in 2001 there was a very real alternative for ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban.

    The author lived in Afghanistan at the height of the Taliban, working for the UN on urban development projects in Kandahar (and having to escape across the desert in a taxi when the USS Cole was bombed by al Qaeda).  She was then an election monitor at the first Loya Jirga (in 2002) and later a freelance journalist with the Economist and Daily Telegraph.   During these years, she also spent a lot of time in Jalalabad with the remaining family of the executed Abdul Haq and Haji Qadir, who at the time of his assassination was Vice President.  

    The intelligence related aspect of the narrative is examined through the story of famed 1980’s guerilla leader, Commander Abdul Haq, who was attempting, with the ex King and senior tribal leaders and defecting Taiban, to put in place an internal peace plan for Afghanistan when September 11 happened.   In July of 2001 Abdul Haq met with General Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance, in Dushanbe ; the two agreed to work together with the ex King to rid the country of the Taliban.  Abdul Haq was also a close associate of Jalaluddin Haqqani, with whom he had fought the Soviets.  As such, this book is the ‘inside track’ not just on the trans Atlantic Western intelligence failures that have put the international community where it is today in Afghanistan, but also on why Abdul Haq’s plan still matters if the West is to begin to extricate itself from the mess that it has created in Afghanistan.  

    Abdul Haq’s plan, its relationship to the dynamics required to stabilise Afghanistan and the reasons why the CIA and Britain’s Mi6 chose not to support it are the central thread of the book.  The book relays never-before-published information about the Washington angle on Abdul Haq and why he died (told for the first time by the Ritchie brothers who – along with former Reagan era ex National Security Advisor, Bud McFarlane had tried to get support for him).  It also gives the inside story of a group of British ex Royal marines who attempted to get various British intelligence outfits,  politicians and senior military figures interested.  As such it is a devastating indictment of the decision making of intelligence outfits and the political elite on both sides of the Atlantic in the weeks surrounding September 11th.

    It is also the story of the authors experience of the international communitys’ endeavours in Afghanistan from August 2000 to the end of the Bonn Process in early 2006 and takes us to early 2011.

    The book is not strictly a biography of Abdul Haq, although his story grows in importance as the narrative unfolds.  The book is an investigation into Haq’s plan and ultimately shows why we should take it seriously as we seek to stabilise and exit Afghanistan.  Abdul Haq’s importance– in terms of what he was attempting to achieve when he died in October 2001 – can only be understood in the context of what the West chose to do ‘instead’ of supporting his plan.  As such, the book charts the author’s experience of the state building process from 2001 (with at the end a flashback to Kandahar under the Taliban) and throughout the narrative relates this to Abdul Haq and what he was attempting to do.

    The story begins with elections in an Afghanistan that has just found peace, after 23 years of war.  Soon however, the peace begins to unfurl, insecurity grows, the Vice President is assassinated (Haq’s brother) women’s rights are not, strictly restored and the Taliban find a foothold once more[1].
    The narrative then takes us to Jalalabad, where the author finds herself in the unique position of actually living with Haq’s family.  They are tribal leaders (sometimes dubbed ‘warlords’) and though known as Afghanistan’s ‘Resistance Royalty’ during the Jihad, in the aftermath September 11th western diplomats are accusing them of ‘terrorism’ and being lynchpins in the drugs trade.  

    The authors’ interest in three of the seven Arsala brothers grows.  The first,  Haji Abdul Qadir, became Vice President in the Afghan transitional administration and was assassinated in 2002.  The second,  Haji din Mohammad, remains a staunch Karzai ally and took over  Governorships of first Jalalabad, then Kabul.  He is now a member of the High Peace Council and is Minister for Tribes and Borders. The third, and the most brilliant of the seven brothers was Abdul Haq, around whom much of the investigation is focussed.

    The narrative contrasts the authors experience among western diplomats and soldiers in Kabul with what she witnessed to be the ‘true dynamics’ of Afghanistan when staying with the Arsala family.

    The book is both a temporal journey and an awakening about what is really shaping Afghanistan.  It shows why the democratic process imposed on the country by the west has not worked and provides alternative answers to what is a more nuanced situation.

    The book's importance relates to the obvious failure of  the West’s post 2001 Afghan strategy.   The books lays out the required alternative, one that is more in tune with Afghan dynamics, particularly in the tribal areas which remain the heartland of the insurgency.  


    The book is based upon the authors’ diaries and notebooks recording her own experiences in Afghanistan over a five to six year period.  As such there are many conversations with ordinary Afghans but also with diplomats, significant Afghan women, soldiers, ‘warlords,’ commanders, UN staff and members of the ‘King’s group.’  Also Haq’s former mujahideen commanders and tribal leaders.  Of particular importance are the interviews given by Haq’s main western proponents and backers, James Ritchie and Sir John Gunston (as well as other former members of Mi6) .

    The book also draws upon never before published Letters, Plans, Situation Reports and Faxes relating to Haq’s ‘plan’ (sourced from John Gunston, and a former SIS man who travelled with him to Peshawar in October 2001).  There are also letters (sourced from Haq’s family among others) and written to Western leaders during the early 1990’s when Haq was attempting to warn – among other things - of the unchecked radicalisation taking place among ‘foreign fighters’ in the tribal areas.  And the possible effects of this for the world (including prophetically a ‘Cataclysmic event for the West’).   There are also letters between the former US Special envoy to Afghanistan and Haq.  There are sitreps laying out the peace plan, its costings, the merits of it vis a vis what the alternatives for stabilising Afghanistan and neutralising the Taliban were.

  • An American businessman who has been assisting and lobbying for Haq around US Gov called this morning and believes that following an initial interest with Haq – which still exists – the hawks have won with their plan to attack and remove the Taliban with coalition forces. Though there is no other source for this alarmist scenario it could explain the latency with which Haq has been treated.

    I need hardly add that the Pashtun response will be one to unite and “all will be against the foreigner”. The Haq option will be dead in
    the water and the US could well be in for a Soviet experience. In the Islamic world it would be a disaster.
    ‘Words from Washington’, sitrep, October 2001

  • An American businessman who has been assisting and lobbying for Haq around US Gov called this morning and believes that following an initial interest with Haq – which still exists – the hawks have won with their plan to attack and remove the Taliban with coalition forces. Though there is no other source for this alarmist scenario it could explain the latency with which Haq has been treated.

    I need hardly add that the Pashtun response will be one to unite and “all will be against the foreigner”. The Haq option will be dead in
    the water and the US could well be in for a Soviet experience. In the Islamic world it would be a disaster.
    ‘Words from Washington’, sitrep, October 2001


    Tera Mangal, Afghanistan, 25 October 2001
    ‘Al humdullilah, we’ve caught the American and British agents!’ they heard the man say in a thick, Arabic accent, and knew the Taliban were upon them.  It was around ten pm and they were in the place named Tera Mangal, crouching on scree slopes dwarfed between slabs of vertical rock face which reached thousands of metres high.

    Their Taliban captors moved out of the darkness and faced Abdul Haq.

    Some minutes earlier, when the group first realised the Taliban were close, Haq had instructed his men to sit apart from one another so they would not all be seen.  They had left their weapons back in Hezarac village after lunch with the elders and now had nothing with which to defend themselves.  As early as that afternoon, when the Taliban were in each of the four narrow Passes that met high in the Hezarac valley, it had been obvious to them there was no way out of the narrow incline.

    The steepness of the slope meant Haq had been forced to dismount the pony.  He leant against the animal, breathing hard.  Despite being known as the ‘Lion of Kabul’ for orchestrating tactically brilliant operations against the Soviet regime during the 1980s, tonight Abdul Haq seemed spent.  The situation was clearly hopeless.  He couldn’t move fast and decided to give himself up before they saw the others.

    The Arab cocked his Kalashnikov as the three other Talibs moved forward, their dark turbans momentarily silhouetted against the moon.  They were nervous, undecided as to what they were about to do. Three had their arms held high, intending to stop the Arab firing.

    ‘Move, go!’ the Arab screamed as Abdul Haq stepped forward from the shadow, still holding the pony by its bridle.

    ‘I need the pony, I can’t walk without my prosthetic,’ Haq said and his voice, normally steady, wavered.

    When I heard this story over three years later, in January 2005, I was told that the reason Haq could not walk was because his prosthetic was actually broken.  He had lost his foot to a landmine during his quest to eject the Soviets from Afghanistan during the 1980s.    

    But that night in October 2001 the Talibs weren’t listening.   The pony was called for. He was helped onto the beast and led away, along with two of his commanders.  Minutes later, thirteen shots were fired.

    This was the capture of Abdul Haq as recounted to me, in Sarobi, by Aga Jan: the man who had been with him on this last mission, as well as countless others during the anti-Soviet jihad.  There were varying accounts of what happened next.  One was that Haq was tortured and shot in Rishicoor barracks in Kabul; the other, more credible, version was that a day later, the car carrying Haq from Hezarac reached Logar, on the outskirts of Kabul.  A second vehicle – this one carrying the Taliban Interior Minister, Mullah Razzaq – sped towards it, from the city centre.   And there, on a piece of tarmac in the open air, Razzaq grabbed a Kalashnikov from his bodyguard.  Seconds later, the man Afghans knew as the ‘Lion of Kabul’ was shot dead.


    On 5 October 2001, the London Evening Standard reported a veteran commander of the 1980s Soviet jihad calling for George Bush’s imminent bombing campaign of Afghanistan to be delayed.  The commander, whose name was Abdul Haq, needed time, he said, to implement his plan for an internal, peaceful toppling of the Taliban.

    ‘ Every time I meet commanders who cross the mountains in darkness to brief me,’ he said, ‘they are part of the Taliban forces, but they no longer support them.  These men will join us and there are many of them.  When the time is right they and others will rise up and this Taliban Government will be swept aside.[i]’

    Haq went on to add:  ‘The people are starving, they are already against them.’

    But his voice, so authoritative when visiting Reagan and Thatcher to call for more support to the mujahideen during the Soviet war, was barely heard in the aftermath of September 11.  The bombing started and Abdul Haq began his perilous mission.  Two weeks later, on 25 October 2001, he was dead.

    In November 2001, after his death, Abdul Haq’s obituaries were dismissive, even overtly condemning.  Not only was the manner of his death questioned but so too was his life and, implicit to that, his ‘value’.  When the New York Times described him demeaningly as ‘a middle aged man on a mule’ or a ‘privately financed freelancer trying to overthrow the Taliban’ the implication was that there should be nothing to regret about his loss.  In London, an unattributed piece in Private Eye added snidely, ‘Like so many erstwhile terrorists, Haq managed to reinvent himself as a “moderate” and a “peacemaker” – so successfully that his murderous exploits were entirely omitted from every single obituary’.   

    Other pieces begged to differ and one, written by a cultural anthropologist and former US Diplomat to Afghanistan, had a different take on the story:

    To hear them talk in Washington and Islamabad, you’d think there was some doubt.  In fact, you’d think his death no great loss.  Listen carefully.  It’s scared talk, the kind of stuff you hear from bureaucrats whose backsides are exposed.Abdul Haq, they rush to insist, was on a mission of his own.  Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t.  Either way, it’s shameful to demean him.

    He added:

    There is some doubt about how the man died and where and when. We know he was ‘questioned’ and then executed. But was it by hanging with his body then used for swaying small-arms target practice, or was he shot in cold blood in a prison courtyard?  It was in eastern Afghanistan – but Jalalabad or Kabul?  It was two weeks ago – but late Thursday or early Friday? There’s some doubt about who sent him and who betrayed him.  There could even be confusion about his name were it not so well known:

     'Born Hamayoun Arsala 44 years ago, he became “Abdul Haq” – Servant of Justice – in the crucible of our Cold War’s most decisive battleground.’