|AFGHAN WARRIOR: THE LIFE & DEATH OF ABDUL HAQ
DIRECTOR INTERVIEW: MALCOLM BRINKWORTH
BBC Four: For people who've never heard of Abdul Haq, why was he an important figure?
Malcolm Brinkworth: First, he was probably one of the most successful and respected commanders during the Soviet-Afghanistan War. Secondly, he was a man of principal. He espoused all the kinds of banners we think we stand for in the West, like truth, honesty and integrity. All the people who worked with him during that war said he had no anger or division over ethnicity, over which tribe or part of Afghanistan you came from. Thirdly, he was also the man who got things done. He was a highly effective commander and organiser. Everywhere we went in our research, most people agreed that Abdul Haq was one of the most important figures in Afghanistan. That's why the Pakistan officials and the ISI didn't really like him. Haq wouldn't tow the line. When I was looking at the whole history of the last 25 years it became clear that you can see the whole conflict through Haq's eyes. You can understand what happened in the Soviet-Afghan War, you can understand the way the Pakistan Government and the CIA played things out, and you can also understand what then led to the kind of climate that made Afghanistan turn itself into a terrorist state.
BBC Four: There's a lot in the film about American and Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan. Did you set out to reveal a kind of shadow history?
MB: Originally we didn't have the full story and part of the process was trying to demystify and also uncover the truth about what had gone on because it really didn't seem to make sense as an outsider. Here we have a huge Cold War battle between East and West fought out in the hills and cities of Afghanistan. A war that went on between 1979 and 1989 into which the CIA and the Saudis pumped millions of dollars. By the last two years of the war they were pumping in $500m each, with Arabs coming in from all over the world to be trained in the camps that would be subsequently be taken over by al-Qaeda. Many seasoned experts told us that the CIA had effectively lost control - with everything being run by Pakistan's military intelligence organisation - the ISI. Despite the huge sums being spent, there were no CIA people allowed into Afghanistan by Pakistan's ISI. It seemed extraordinary.
As we went on, it became clear that if we were to understand the situation in Afghanistan pre 9/11 under the Taleban, we also had to find out what Haq had been doing during that period. It was then that we uncovered all the efforts he had made to build a broad-based coalition to oppose the Taleban.
There were also numerous attempts by various people to try to get him support in the US State Department, the White House, the Department of Defense but all of them referred Haq and his supporters to the CIA. It's at that point you realise the CIA knew everything that was going on from 1996 to 2001. It knew that al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden were becoming more embedded with the Taleban, it knew the Taleban were being financed, armed and supported by Pakistani soldiers on the ground. Yet until the Nairobi attacks the CIA and the American administration were thinking of doing a joint pipeline across Afghanistan. Nothing was done to help men like Haq, not even after Americans had died.
BBC Four: What were the reactions of the Americans you interviewed on looking back on the 1980s and 90s?
MB: Some of them regret the actions that have not taken place since the end of Soviet-Afghan War. They think further action should have been taken. The Clinton administration withdrew and effectively put on a blindfold between 1991 and 1998. As Robert McFarlane says in the film: "To ignore South Asia was a historic error. Not to leave enough people around from the CIA or the State Department to keep us informed about what was going on during the Clinton years was an appalling failure... It's clearly evident that by end of 1996 and early 1997 that al-Qaeda was putting down roots there that this would represent to us and to others a real threat."
Abdul Haq is the one man who said, "I won't be your puppet but you actually need to join with us to make this work, otherwise the US policy is going to backfire in the longer term". Many former officials tried to persuade people to act before the horrific events of 9/11 - but the CIA made it clear that it had no intention of doing so. There was no interest. But to make matters worse, after 9/11 they played a double game. The Americans actually went on record saying that Abdul Haq was one of the chosen people they were going to back in their efforts to topple the Taleban.
However, the reality is that Haq got nothing. The CIA refused to back him, despite clear evidence that senior members of the Taleban were in discussions about switching sides under his leadership. While they dished out hundreds of thousands of dollars to others, the only help Haq received was the offer of two satellite telephones, which had to be a calculated insult.
BBC Four: How do you think Afghanistan would look know if Abdul Haq had been able to put his vision into practice?
MB: Abdul Haq did not want to become the president of Afghanistan. He had no overall yearning for political power. He confessed to his brother, "Do you know what my dream is? I'd love to have become mayor of Kabul so I could rebuild the capital city so it's a place fit for all Afghans." I think in Afghanistan at the moment you have a lot of tension, you have a lot of people upset not only by what the Taleban did but also by the imbalance of power among the different ethnic groupings. There's also a great deal of resentment over the lack of visible progress in reconstructing the country. I feel that if they are going to build a modern, unified Afghanistan for all Afghans Haq would have enabled the people to say, "We trust you, we're behind you, you're going to try and heal the wounds in conjunction with Hamid Karzai, with the Northern Alliance and everybody else." Haq was the one man they could all count on. As one of the senior Afghan politicians said to me, "Losing him was like losing the best leader Afghanistan never had."