Dr. Abdullah Abdullah: In His Own Words
I was born about fifty years ago in this house (pointing to his father’s house located in Kart-e-Parwan, Kabul). My father Ghulam Muhayuddin was from Kandahar province and my mother was from Panjshir. Before moving to Kart-e-Parwan my parents lived in the De Afghanan area of Kabul. My family consisted of nine siblings with seven sisters and two brothers.
When I was two years of age my father who was serving as a government official at the time, was transferred to Kandahar province. At first grade I studied at Zaher Shahi School in Kandahar province. That was when my father was transferred to Kabul and I had to re-attend first grade at Ghazi Ayoub Khan School located within close proximity from our house, due to differences in the school year. I eventually attended Naderia High School. During primary and high school education I enjoyed playing sports, in particular basketball and ping pong. Aside from playing sports I was mainly occupied with my studies. Upon graduation in 1976 I took the admission test for entry into Kabul University’s Department of Medicine which I passed and commenced my studies soon after.
From Faculty to Migration:
I resided in Kabul province during the seven years that I attended Faculty of Medicine at Kabul University. In April of 1979 the coup de ta took place as the forces of the former Soviet Union militarily invaded Afghanistan.
Prior to being admitted to Kabul University’s Department of Medicine I was very much interested in studying Literature. However, my family and friends encouraged me to major in the field of medicine. With the military intervention of Afghanistan by forces of the former Soviet Union, the situation in Afghanistan dramatically changed while I was studying at Kabul University.
When I first entered Kabul University I had around two hundred and twenty classmates. When I graduated from the University’s Department of Medicine, receiving my M.D., I recall around one hundred and sixty classmates graduating from our class. Several of our classmates had either migrated from the country or had joined the national resistance movement against the invading Soviet forces.
During my days at the University I was not very politically active. I occasionally participated in demonstrations and protests organized by students in support of the Afghan national resistance movement against the invading Soviet forces. However, I was concerned about the political and social unrest in Afghanistan, often discussing the situation with my classmates. I found myself contemplating whether to pursue my studies or join the national resistance. I decided to complete my studies and eventually graduated from Department of Medicine in 1362.
Upon graduation I started my work at Kabul’s Noor Eye Institute as an ophthalmologist for several months. Soon after, I migrated to Pakistan. At the time my parents and family decided to stay in Kabul. While in Pakistan I also worked as an ophthalmologist for over a year at the Syed Jamaluddin Afghan Eye Hospital for Afghan Refugees in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Return to Afghanistan to Join National Resistance Movement:
During the tenure of my stay in Pakistan several of my family members and friends advised me to migrate to the West to pursue my studies. However, I deemed it as a national responsibility to join our national movement and provide my services as a doctor.
In the year 1364 I decided to return to my country Afghanistan to join our national liberation movement against the invading Soviet army. From Pakistan I entered Afghanistan through Chitral Pass, arriving in Nuristan province. I then decided to travel to Panjshir, Afghanistan. The journey took me eleven days as I traveled by foot and on horse. After arriving in Panjshir, I was introduced to late prominent Afghan Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud. After spending significant time with him, I realized the popularity of his movement, as he was an extremely capable military commander, whose movement also provided efficient services to the local populace, often solving their problems. I decided to join his movement.
With a Man, a Friend:
I spent my first winter in Panjshir in a village called “Safaid Char” where I opened a small clinic using medical paraphernalia which I had brought with me along with additional medical equipments which had been donated by the Swedish Committee. As a surgeon I provided medical services to local residents, resistance fighters and hostages in the war. After a month of my arrival to Panjshir, Commander Massoud had traveled to the north of the Hindu Kush Mountains to support his forces and expand the military frontlines.
Coincidentally, it was around the time that I had opened my clinic when the attacks of the Soviet forces were at its peak, resulting in the occupation of some parts of Panjshir. However, the Afghan resistance fighters were still very active and operational in areas that were still free from the invading forces control. The clinic was located in a small area in the mountains around “Safaid Char” where Soviet jets periodically bombed. The intensity of the bombings and attacks had not been seen in recent wars. At times, the attacks were so massive and consistent from morning to evening, we would find ourselves not being able to move from one area to another. It was only on snowy days where people could walk and move around safely. Other than that, Soviet bombings could start at any moment, every day. Local residents and Afghan freedom fighters were targeted and injured in the attacks.
In order to increase medical assistance to those in need, I started to train some local residents and Afghan freedom fighters that were able to read and write in first aid assistance. Eventually, some of them left Afghanistan to pursue medical studies abroad.
During this time, an organization called “Shura-e-Nezar” was established which was led by Commander Massoud. It was operational under the Jamiat-e-Islami group, which was one of the seven established Afghan political factions. I observed in Panjshir that there were various committees active in health, education, reconstruction, cultural and other areas. It was striking for me to see that while the Afghan freedom fighters were actively involved and occupied in the military operations, these institutions were serving the people. This had strengthened my perception of Commander Massoud as a credible leader.
Management structure and governance of the people could be seen very clearly. For instance, every village had a council consisting of religious scholars, educated residents, ordinary soldiers, commanders and the youth. All major decisions about the villages were made by these councils. Council members were elected by the villagers. Commander Massoud had control over his forces as a commander, and also monitored the daily activities on the ground through these councils. The elected council of residents secured the support of the locals at the time, and for many years to come. On one hand, the residents felt the ownership, on the other, a structure had been placed that would serve and assist the people.
The many years that I spent next to Commander Massoud helped me to learn a lot about him as well as to become very familiar with his style of management. He was a true Muslim, a fearless fighter, a brave commander, and a man, with a clear vision. He considered resistance to the invading forces as a national responsibility, while at the same time, was very concerned about peace and stability in the lives of all Afghans. Gradually, I learned more and more about him. We eventually became colleagues and friends. Our friendship lasted until the last moment of his life.
During the national resistance, I realized that in addition to being extremely busy with his routine personal and war-related responsibilities, he was always thinking about the country’s future. His every action was pointed at the well-being of the people. Witnessing him possess and illustrate these characteristics was a very good experience for me. I consider the time I shared with him as very valuable and educative.
News about the Passing of my Father:
My father passed away in 1364. This was during my first year in Panjshir and for long time I was unaware of his passing.
It was a kind of tradition for the Afghan freedom fighters to meet with their families once a year. They had to travel to relatively peaceful areas where they would get together with their families who lived in the capital Kabul or elsewhere. One year after the passing of my father, I came to a village called “Munar Darah” in Jabul Saraj, north of the capital. My mother and sisters joined me soon after. They informed me about the passing of my father. The next day I arranged for funeral ceremonies. It was a difficult time, showing the challenging situation that we were in.
When the Afghan freedom fighters came down from the mountains to meet with their families, local villagers provided them with shelter. In some cases, local villagers chose to leave their homes and live elsewhere with their families, so the Afghan freedom fighters could feel free, having their own privacy. This showed the solidarity between men and women, as well as the close relationship between the ordinary people and those who were fighting for the country’s freedom. Freedom and liberation brought people who didn’t know each other to stand side by side. This was a sign that our occupation would one day end, and our people would be able choose their own destiny and write their own future.
Interest for Poetry and Culture:
I was interested in poetry and literatures since a very young age. My father was my first teacher and guide to study the poetries of great poets such as Rumi, Sahdi, Jami, Nazami Ganjawi, and others. He was a religious scholar and taught his children religious subjects at home.
During my school years, I learned more about poetry and literature. The top two teachers of Naderia High School, Ustad Gul Ahqa Berang and Ustad Mohammad Ismael Khazahi, encouraged me to spend more time on poetry and literature. Ustad Khazahi was eventually sentenced, then killed by the communist regime.
The very first day I met Commander Massoud, I found out that not only he had a deep interest, but also deep knowledge of poets and poetry. I witnessed that he read and talked about poetry whenever he had a chance. For instance, after a long and exhausting day, we would find ourselves discussing and reading poetry. We always carried with us a book by Hafez, as well as other poetry books. I have many good memories of those days.
A Sweet Memory:
On a moonlit night, we were crossing a narrow wooden bridge. Commander Massoud looked back and asked everyone to recite poems they knew about the moon. A friend, who I prefer remain anonymous at this time, expressed his interest to read one of his poems about the moon. We all agreed. When he started his poem, we realized that his poem was about the sun, not the moon. We all burst into laughter for a long time. We had many moments such as this one.
Even the evening before Commander Massoud was assassinated, I was told that he and a group of associates were reading Hafez poems until the early morning hours.
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (1992-1996)
It won’t be an exaggeration if I say that the most challenging and difficult time of my life was when the Afghan resistance fighters (Mujahedeen) came to power in 1992.
Spokesperson of Ministry of Defense
When the Afghan Mujahedeen came to power, liberating Kabul from the communist backed regime, I was appointed as Chief of Staff and Spokesperson of the Ministry of Defense of the Islamic Government of Afghanistan. As per instructions from Commander Massoud, I occasionally traveled to northern and western parts of the country to carry out various responsibilities. However, almost all of the time I was with Commander Massoud, while he was serving as the Minister of Defense, a post he later resigned from in order to bring an end to the civil conflict in Kabul. Gulbudeen Hekmatyar of the Hezb-e- Islami faction eventually started a military battle with the Afghan Mujahedeen’s legitimate Government, which later became very complicated.
I have many grim memories of the very troublesome period during this time. I witnessed the tragic loss of lives of innocent civilians, destruction of Kabul and looting of national assets.
Almost immediately after the Afghan Mujahedeen government came into power in Kabul, the very unfortunate wars between various Afghan factions ensued. Before entering Kabul with his military forces, Commander Massoud spoke to Mr. Hekmatyar for one hour, in an effort to convince him to put an immediate halt to his military attacks on Kabul, and to sit down with other prominent Afghan political leaders to negotiate a peaceful political resolution to the conflict. I noticed that during his conversation, Commander Massoud’s tone and mood did not change even once. He was soft, frustrated, serious and honest when he described what the outcome and consequences of the war would be if he continued with his military approach. He strongly urged that all Afghan political leaders sit down as Afghan brothers and come to a peaceful consensus. This would prevent the destruction of Kabul and more importantly would preserve the safety, security and well-being of all of Kabul’s citizens, in particular the children.
Unfortunately, interference by regional players, the international community’s disengagement from Afghanistan, power greed by Jihadi leaders and Mr. Hekmatyar’s stubbornness caused the start of the war.
I got married that same year, 1372. I have three daughters and one son. I was living in Kabul until the Taliban took over Kabul in September of 1996. That was when I left for Panjshir with my mother, wife and eldest daughter.
During the era of resistance to the Taliban, my family decided to remain in Panjshir for a long time. Eventually, we decided to have our family move to New Delhi, India, while I remained in Afghanistan to assist Commander Massoud in his efforts for a stable and free Afghanistan. At this time, I was appointed as Spokesperson of the Islamic Government of Afghanistan.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
In 1997, through deliberations between various Afghan groups that were opposing the Taliban (United Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan), I was appointed as Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs. In this capacity, I traveled extensively to foreign countries to speak about the state of affairs in Afghanistan, our challenges and our way forward. I represented Afghanistan at the Annual United Nations General Assembly Meetings on four separate occasions. I also accompanied former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani to the United Nations Millennium General Assembly. During all my trips, I made an effort to convey the message of the Afghan resistance to the world. That message was that the dangers facing Afghanistan would not be limited only to Afghanistan’s territory. During the course of my official meetings, I also participated in additional side meetings and forums organized by Afghans that were residing within those specific countries.
During the last year of the national resistance, I was appointed to serve as Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. It is worthy to mention that after the Taliban military captured Kabul, all Afghan embassies and diplomatic missions were controlled by the Islamic Government of Afghanistan, with the exception of three of our Embassies in Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Still, during this time, official Afghan government delegations were participating in all major international conferences and meetings.
Unfortunately, our challenge was that the situation in Afghanistan was considered as an “internal issue”. Afghanistan’s enemies used the ensuing state of chaos and further inflamed the ethnic tensions in the county, leading the country to further devastation. The Afghan Government was starting to be called as the legitimate “Northern Alliance” movement. The problems continued and eventually Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups made Afghanistan their safe havens as they were being harbored by the Taliban as guests and colleagues. The Taliban were eagerly fighting to capture all of Afghanistan. Many observers irresponsibly saw the military struggle in Afghanistan as a war between the North and the South. In reality, we were fighting for Afghanistan’s independence, national interest, and human rights. There was no issue between the north and south whatsoever.
It took a long time before we achieved in proving the legitimacy of our cause and to be understood by the West and the United States. It was only during the last few years of the resistance when we felt that the western countries perception and opinion about us had changed.
A Failed Mission
In September 2001, when Commander Massoud was martyred (Sept.9), the United Nations General Assembly was in progress in New York. Since Commander Massoud had been selected as Vice President of Afghanistan we wanted him to represent Afghanistan and deliver a speech at the U.N. General Assembly.
During his European trip to Belgium to address the European Parliament, Commander Massoud conveyed a clear message about the dangers of terrorism to Afghanistan and the world. He clearly stated that if the international community did not stand up to terrorist and extremist networks in Afghanistan, its consequences would extend beyond Afghanistan and possibly reach the western world. It was until the last year of the resistance when the international community’s understanding of Afghanistan had slightly changed.
Many of our problems resulted from the fact that Afghanistan was not welcomed to participate in high-level diplomatic meetings. They had considered the Afghan Government as one side to the destructive war.
For the first time, on September 5, 2001, only four days before Commander Massoud was assassinated, the United States Government, in a meeting of Deputy Secretary’s, discussed the issue of providing assistance to the Afghan resistance fighters. But it was late, we had already faced what happened in Afghanistan on September 9 and the terrorists eventually attacked the United States on September 11.
Just a few days before Commander Massoud was assassinated, I had traveled to South Africa to participate in a conference organized by the United Nations which focused on discrimination. It was the first high-level meeting on the issue of discrimination which I had attended. Former South African President and civil rights leader Nelson Mandela chaired the conference. Immediately after the conference, I went to New Delhi to visit my family. Per instructions from Commander Massoud, I was planning on traveling to France to meet with Speaker of the French Parliament on September 10. There was a tentative plan for the French Parliament Speaker to travel to Rome, Italy to meet with Afghanistan’s former King, Mohammad Zahir Shah.
I was in New Delhi when I was initially informed that Commander Massoud was injured and later martyred by two terrorists posing as journalists. Obviously, I was deeply shocked upon hearing the news. When I first heard that he was injured, my initials thought was to quickly arrange his evacuation to a well equipped medical facility outside Afghanistan, so he can receive quick and professional medical treatment. However, soon after, I was informed that Commander Massoud had passed away. Along with some other friends, we quickly departed for Afghanistan, via Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
Beginning of another Stage,
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Upon arriving in Dushanbe, I met with several people who were also injured in the attack on Commander Massoud. That same evening, we had a joint meeting in Dar Kad area of Takhar province in Afghanistan. Former President Burhanuddin Rabbani and other mujahedeen leaders were present at the meeting. There, I expressed my opinion that Al-Qaeda was behind the September 11 attacks in the United States and perhaps the Taliban would be pressured by the international community for their support and harboring of Al-Qaeda.
Soon after, I was very busy arranging funeral ceremonies for Commander Massoud in Panjshir, which commenced very successfully. As one can imagine, it was an extremely emotional time for thousands of people present at the ceremonies.
I was in Afghanistan when the Americans started to establish contact with Afghan government officials. These contacts suddenly intensified. Soon after, U.N. Representative Mr. Lakhdar Ibrahimi and the U.N. Secretary-General's Personal Representative for Afghanistan, Mr. Fransec Vendrell, started political negotiations on the future of Afghanistan. They later traveled to Afghanistan and met with leaders of the resistance and officials of the Islamic Government of Afghanistan.
The United Nations decided to convene an International Conference on the Future of Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany. Representatives from all of Afghanistan’s political groups and additional officials were invited to participate in the conference. After several meetings, the Afghan Government decided to send Mr. Younus Qanouni to the conference.
While the conference was being held in Bonn, I was in Afghanistan conducting negotiations to help find a political solution for the country. I have many memories of this time. I will talk about them in more detail sometime in the future. Eventually, after extensive meetings in Bonn and in Afghanistan, in coordination with the international community, a peaceful transfer of power through a political process took place. This was a turning point in the history of Afghanistan.
After the establishment of a transitional government, Afghanistan came out of isolation and the global community’s doors opened to it. I was appointed as Minister of Foreign Affairs and we had to implement a revised Foreign Policy for the country and engage in active diplomacy. The foundation of our foreign affairs system had been badly damaged, due to continued wars and seven years of rule by the Taliban. One can imagine the challenges we faced at the Afghan Foreign Ministry, post Taliban era.
It was my first and foremost priority to establish a capable working team at the Ministry and reform Afghanistan’s foreign embassies and diplomatic missions worldwide, in a new atmosphere that Afghanistan had not witnessed even during the peaceful stage of its history.
With the emergence of our Transitional Government, many international countries officially recognized and established relations with the Afghan Government. Afghan embassies worldwide reopened and became active in an atmosphere of much enthusiasm. Afghan Government officials traveled abroad while many foreign delegations visited Afghanistan in official capacity.
At the same time, the presence of international troops in Afghanistan required a balanced policy not only towards the countries that had a military presence in the country, but also with our neighboring countries as well. The main challenge of the Afghan Foreign Ministry was to garner continued international assistance for Afghanistan’s reconstruction process and to help with the implementation of the political process in the country.
We also played an active role in the establishment of the Government. I was an active member of the “Constitutional Loya Jirga” where we agreed and ratified our new constitution. While serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan from 2001-2005, I traveled to numerous countries to meet with foreign government officials to discuss and garner continued international support for our rebuilding effort.
Almost a year after Afghanistan’s 2004 Presidential elections, Mr. Karzai decided to make some changes in his Cabinet, including the appointment of Mr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta as Minister of Foreign Affairs. While Mr. Karzai suggested several other Ministries for me to serve as Minister, I refused to accept other positions. I decided to serve as Secretary General of the Massoud Foundation, where I participated in several conferences on Afghanistan. Soon after, I was requested by the Government of Afghanistan to serve as Chairman of the “Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace Jirga” in Kabul and also to lead the Afghan delegation to a follow up Jirga in Pakistan. I participated in both events in the hope of making progress with regard to constructive relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Eventually, political and military changes in Pakistan made the “Peace Jirga” very complicated.
In the meantime, I re-established my relationship with the Afghan people. In 2009, as I saw the situation in Afghanistan deteriorating, I decided to nominate myself for Presidency of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan’s 2009 Presidential elections, the Afghan people trusted me with 37% percent of their votes. The Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, through coordination with the Electoral Complaints Commission, decided that elections go for a second round, as no candidate received the required 50% of the votes to emerge victorious in the first round. Having witnessed significant vote rigging and fraud, I decided not to participate in the second round of elections.
I eventually established the political movement “Coalition for Hope and Change” which became the foundation for the “National Coalition of Afghanistan”, which currently is the main democratic opposition movement to Mr. Karzai’s government. I am currently chairing the National Coalition of Afghanistan.