The daughter of former Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah, Heela Najibullah, has pointed her finger at Pakistan alleging the country’s involvement in the killing of her father. Speaking exclusively to our diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal from Switzerland, Heela said that there is a “number of reports indicating that it was the establishment in Pakistan” behind the killing of her father, elaborating, “Why are leaders of Afghanistan, who want a strong, independent country, a self-sufficient Afghanistan, being targetted?”
Referring to Pakistan’s role as “destructive”, she called for a “thorough investigation” to find who was behind the assassination of her father.
In 1996, Mohammad Najibullah was brutally murdered when the Taliban entered the city that year. His body was found hanging from a traffic light pole outside the Afghan Presidential palace, a development that marked the beginning of Taliban rule in the country and sent shockwaves through global capitals.
Heela also spoke on India, saying, “If Afghanistan gave me my roots, India gave me the wings to fly and it nurtured me.”
Sidhant Sibal: How do you see the current state of Afghanistan?
Heela Najibullah: We are once again at a very critical political juncture in the context of Afghanistan. I say this, especially following the peace process in the past two and a half years. There are elements in the peace process in the way that the whole process has evolved. That creates quite a lot of concern as to what we have ahead of us. For example, in some of the loopholes I would like to highlight, there is the fact that the process has not been inclusive, so the Afghan government was kept out of the whole process.
The voice of the Afghans was not really included. In addition to that, the government needed to have a more solid strategy and mechanisms to ensure that the reconciliation process moves forward. So these are some of the gaps that I, as a researcher, have observed. But I also see a struggle between the destructive way of going ahead and building a shared future for peace. Now, something that remains to be seen is what the Afghan and the international partners would like to support.
Do you see history being repeated in Afghanistan? Can we trust the Taliban?
If you look at the parallels during the time of my father’s government and what is going on right now in Afghanistan in terms of peacemaking, remember that his government had in 1987 announced the national reconciliation policy and that they wanted to make peace with the Mujahideen. He had also requested Zahir Shah, the then king who was based out of Rome, to come back. So the point was to be able to have an inclusive political way out of the crisis, caused by the Cold War.
However, if you look at the current situation, the narrative, that was used at that point in time, is very much similar to the narratives of the Mujahideen. Very much similar to the narratives which the Taliban are currently using. I will give you some examples — the government is illegitimate, the fact that the security apparatus and defence apparatus that exist have to be dissolved. They tried to say the same things to my father in different ways. These are some of the political narratives that you see as repetition and when you view this you need to be considerate, you need to be aware to ensure that the future we are making in Afghanistan is not repeated. As far as trust is concerned for the Taliban, whatever they have said in terms of negotiations, they have actually acted against it ever since the peace process. So bringing it a reduction of violence-targetted assassination, the fact of the matter is that they will sit with the Afghan government now, saying the government is illegitimate, so the words need to be taken cautiously. On the surface, it has a different meaning, but really, their actions say something else.
We understand that the memory regarding your father is a painful one. Could you talk a bit about the incident, if that’s okay?
I don’t know what aspects of it you want me to highlight. It is known very well, worldwide, how he was assassinated along with his bother. Bodies were hanged for two days. We tried our best to negotiate with the UN and other partners to ensure that the bodies are brought down and that an investigation as to who killed them or assassinated them was initiated. However, unfortunately, none of that happened at that point in time.
I remember talking to him the night before he was murdered. He had called us up on his satellite phone, it was around 4-5 PM. I remember because it was my last grade of school in India. He just wanted to hello and said that I should take care of my sisters and my mother. When I asked him about the Taliban, he just said, “I don’t have time to talk much, take care of your family.”
That was it, by 1.30 it was reported on BBC that he was being taken out of the UN. So that is all I can tell you. But what I would like to highlight is that what happened to my father remains a mystery. That is why my mother on May 31, 2020, issued a statement officially requesting the Afghan government and also the United Nations to conduct a thorough investigation, to find out who was behind his and his brother’s assassination. This needs to be considered because peace without truth and justice is just not possible.
Who do you suspect is responsible for the killing of your father? Reports suggest that Pakistan might be behind it.
Not one or two reports, but a number of reports indicate that it was the establishment in Pakistan. Even the Americans have written about this. In the last one year, I have heard interviews of Taliban members on Afghan TV channels like Tolo saying that it wasn’t them who killed Najibullah. The question still remains as to who killed him and why he was killed. This is extremely crucial in order for us to understand why the leaders of Afghanistan who want a strong and independent country, a self-sufficient Afghanistan, are constantly being targetted. This is something that we need to look at, the region needs to look at, the UN needs to look at, especially if we talking about peace and especially if we talking about truth and we are talking about justice.
Personally, do you think Pakistan is responsible? We’re strictly talking about your personal thoughts on the matter here.
When you belong to a political family, there are so many conspiracy stories and issues, but I must say that the role of Pakistan in the Afghan War, since the Cold War, has been very destructive. If they have their hands in the killing of my father, the fact needs to be established. For example, Peter Thomson in his book has mentioned this. If it is mentioned by an American envoy, it needs to be internationally determined how he came to know this. It must be raised in global forums that the president of a country is murdered in broad daylight and no investigation has taken place till now. There is complete silence.
Do you have any plans to go back to Afghanistan? You know, to start it all over again?
When the time is right, I will go where my father and uncle are buried. It’s something that will eventually take me back. As far as political lineage is concerned, with my father’s achievement, I do have this. I am proud of it, I don’t consider myself a politician. I must say, as the day passes by for Afghans, especially, the Afghan youth have realised the values that my father stood for. Of national unity, of a progressive Afghanistan, of a democratic Afghanistan.
His slogan, ‘Watanya Kafan‘ is still chanted in Afghanistan. So this is something that encourages a lot of the youth to look up to him and have his vision as a guideline, to establish an independent and strong Afghanistan. But for that, they need to have a structure. They need to have a political possibility to raise the voice and represent the idea. For example, I was asking my father’s colleagues why they are not overtly talking about the current situation, and basically what I came to know is that the party wasn’t even allowed to be registered. Even though in the past 19 years, we have had democracy. Imagine having an emirate and trying to then raise your voice. That is the most difficult issue at the moment if you want to have a political structure in place in which the youth can bring his vision come true.
How do you see India, given that you have lived in the country for a while?
I did grow up in India, I did my schooling in India. I have not been living in your country now, but I learned a lot there. India and Afghanistan share a very deep history and culture, and for me personally, if Afghanistan gave me my roots, India gave me wings to fly and it nurtured me. For me, India played a very constructive role since 2001, with the kind of projects they had in Afghanistan. The kind of relationship they established with the Afghan government, which I laud. The fact of the matter is that India did not only build libraries. I have talked to Afghans who were excited about cricket grounds that India is building, the fact that the Parliament building was built by Indian aid, the roads that connected the whole of Afghanistan were so, too. I was also actually studying in India when Afghan students came to be educated and do their Masters’ We have ministers today in Afganistan who studied in India. To me, India has been a friend and all the deeds, Afghans will remember and cherish.