The demise of Marshall Fahim will impact adversely on Afghanistan’s post-2014 stabilisation. He fought against the Soviet occupation of and against Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Following the assassination of the charismatic Commander Ahmed Shah Massoud on Sep 9, 2001, Fahim, a fellow Panjsheri, played a key role in mobilising and leading the Northern Alliance troops against the Taliban, whose leadership soon abandoned Kabul and retreated to Pakistan by mid-November 2001.
Contrary to the forebodings of the international community, as head of the military council, Fahim provided security to Kabul and its environs before the installation of the Afghan Transitional Administration. Thereafter, he was closely associated with governance, first as defence minister and vice president until end-2004. He became vice president again, notwithstanding the considerable external pressure applied on President Hamid Karzai not to select Fahim as his running mate in 2009.
He had served earlier as the head of the National Directorate of Security, during the presidency of Burhanuddin Rabbani. It was ironical that a nationalist who had fought against foreign forces and the Taliban was labelled a ‘warlord’ on account of his blunt speech and earthy demeanour.
Whether in or out of office, Fahim remained through the entire post-Taliban period of 13 years, an important member of the informal Jihadi Leadership Council , which comprised the important surviving leaders of the Mujahideen combatants, including former President Rabbani, Vice President Karim Khalili, former President of the Meshrano Jirga (Upper House) Hazrat Sebghatulla Mojadidi, former Wolesi Jirgah speaker and interior and education Minister Younus Qanooni, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdul Rab Sayyaf, Pir Gailani and Ustad Mohaqeq.
Commander Massoud commissioned Fahim, in 1996, on the eve of Taliban’s entry into Kabul, to persuade President Muhammad Najibullah to leave the United Nations compound and join the resistance movement in the north where his personal safety would be guaranteed. Najibullah paid dearly for turning down this offer, for the Taliban, as directed by their minders, promptly executed him as soon as they entered Kabul.
Fahim remained, until the end of his life, a strong votary of an effective national security apparatus in Afghanistan – of adequate and well-equipped Afghan National Security Forces. As defence minister, he had paid a high price for this commitment and was removed from office reportedly upon the insistence of Western leaders, who were annoyed by his insistence on building a sizeable Afghan National Army. At the time, the prevailing conventional wisdom was for Afghanistan not to build its armed forces and deal with the remnants of Al Qaeda and Taliban with the assistance of foreign forces and the Pakistan Army.
Equally, he strove for national unity at a time of crisis and conflict, and attacks on Afghan sovereignty and independence from within and without. “The only way to come out from the current situation,” Fahim used to caution, “is to believe and create a unity that cannot be infiltrated and a political situation where everybody speaks with the same voice.”
For him, political unity was a sine qua non for stabilising Afghanistan and countering the Taliban threat, as much as to pursue the politics of reconciliation with those elements of the Taliban that disassociated themselves from Al Qaeda and its associates and agreed to abide by democracy and constitutionalism. This was the basis of his support for President Karzai during the presidential election of 2009 and his agreement to accept the position of vice president. He will be missed during the present period of political transition in Afghanistan.
(Jayant Prasad is a former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan. He can be contacted at email@example.com)