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.
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.
Lucy Morgan Edwards is a former Political Advisor to the EU Ambassador in Kabul with responsibility for civil military affairs, narcotics and security sector reform. During her seven years in the region she worked for the UN in Kandahar at the height of the Taliban regime (supervising community and urban water supply projects), was an election monitor and a correspondent for the Economist and Daily Telegraph and the initial researcher for the International Crisis Group on Transitional Justice Issues. She also spent many months in Jalalabad, Eastern Afghanistan, with a leading tribal family (that of Abdul Haq and Haji Abdul Qadir), whereby she developed an insight into the post-9/11 political situation in the dis-enfranchised Pashtun areas of the East. Her final job was Country Expert to the EU Monitors of the 2005 Afghan Parliamentary Elections. She has written several academic papers on the post-9/11 Afghan intervention and state-building process, including “State-building in Afghanistan – a case showing the Limits?” for the International Review of the Red Cross special issue on “Conflict in Afghanistan” and “Defence, Diplomacy and Development – ‘3D’: Rhetoric or reality?” for the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. She is author of The Afghan Solution: The Inside Story of Abdul Haq, the CIA and How Western Hubris Lost Afghanistan,and shehas presented papers on Afghanistan at Chatham House,the Royal Society of Asia Affairs, and the Frontline club in London. She currently lives in Geneva.
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The Afghan Solution
The New America Foundation’s National Security Studies Program Held a discussion with Lucy Morgan Edwards on her recent book, The Afghan Solution, which argues that the rejection by the U.S. government of one Afghan leader’s plan to defeat the Taliban after 9/11 may have lost it the war.
In this video, Douglas Ollivant speaks with author Lucy Morgan Edwards.