Heela Najibullah was 18 when his father, Afghan President Najibullah, was hanged. Now the country’s current leadership and the Taliban are negotiating peace. The president’s daughter is trying to bring the voice of the victims to the negotiating table.
In the photo a dark mustachioed man lifts a little girl towards the ceiling. They both laugh.
Heela Najibullah has turned the camera over in a video call to show a picture hanging on the wall of his office outside Zurich in Switzerland.
Pictured is Heela Najibullah and his father, who was later hanged.
Najibullah, Dr. Najib, served as President of Afghanistan from 1987-1992. He was the last communist president of the country. He worked for a long time under the control of the Soviet Union, and did not give up his idea after the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.
On September 27, 2020, the murder turned 24 years old. The Qatar capital, Doha, is hosting historic Afghan peace talks, with the country’s leadership and the Taliban sitting at a joint negotiating table.
Much is expected from the negotiations. The withdrawal of American troops has already been decided, but a permanent ceasefire, the basic structures of a democratic society, and the rights of women and minorities have yet to be agreed. Finland has also announced that its soldiers could return to Afghanistan next year.
Geneva, for its part, will be held next week, 23-24. November, Afghanistan Aid Conference. Finland has a significant role in organizing the conference together with representatives of the UN and the Afghan government. The aim is to bring together Afghanistan’s own and external donors’ development projects and monitor their progress.
Finland intends to propose that the support received by the country be conditional from now on. That is, if the desired results are not obtained, the support ceases.
Afghanistan the current management wanted to hold a memorial service for Dr. Najib this year, but it was never held in the end. There are too many conflicting takers in Afghanistan for the legacy of a communist and a devout Muslim.
Instead of parties, there were demonstrations, riots and clashes by political groups in Kabul.
Events have kept Heela Najibullah busy. The president’s daughter has been asked to comment on the various stages of the unrest. He has responded to the requests patiently after first finding out what is going on in Kabul.
Heela Najibullah is a peace activist and has served as an international Red Cross aid worker in various countries. Many want to hear him. Najibullah often comments on Afghanistan in the media. On Twitter, he has more than 40,000 followers.
Along with commenting, Najibullah is finalizing his dissertation on the subject of Afghanistan, peace and making peace. More specifically, it maps out “intergenerational accounts of peace and conflict in the Afghan diaspora in Switzerland and Germany”.
In this diaspora, away from home, Heela Najibullah has lived two-thirds of her life. Afghanistan is his father and mother country, where he last lived thirty years ago.
When asked if he ever plans and wants to return, he responds by sharing his dream. A hospital and a school have been built around the grave of his father and uncle.
Heela Nazibullah did not live like any ordinary girl in Afghanistan.
The family lived in a Soviet-style gray concrete house. The little girl’s chin just reached over the windowsill, and the window showed the snow-covered Hindu Kush Mountains.
Heelan was brought to school by the “Sets of Sets”.
The father was in charge of the party that ruled the country at the time, the Democratic People’s Party of Afghanistan. When Heela was four years old, his father started as head of the Afghan intelligence service and led it hard for years with the support of the KGB.
The daughter was taken to school by the “Set of Sets,” but the guns of the security guards were never visible.
Heela Nazibullah says her first personal experience of violence was when her own teacher died in a bomb attack. Heela reacted by staying home because she didn’t want anyone else to teach herself. He asked his mother about terrorists.
“Who are they? Why do they make so much noise? ”
The school taught that no foreign object could be picked up from the street and protection had to be sought during an explosion or firing.
When Heela’s father became president in 1987, his daughter was ten years old. His life changed radically. Friends, sports and outdoor games cut off the child’s world. In addition to the school day, there was life only in the closed area of the Presidential Palace.
“The biggest days of happiness were Islamic holidays. That’s when relatives and father’s friends came home. Otherwise, we were always with the family. Mom, grandmother, two younger sisters, me and Dad. ”
In all those years, Heela Najibullah’s homeland was at war: in war with Soviet forces and in civil war.
For the last years he spent at the Presidential Palace, the family lived on the ground floor. It was the only place that was even somehow safe from daily firefights.
Of the year The 1991 long Christmas holiday became a turning point in Heela Najibullah’s life.
14-year-old Heela and her siblings were sent to India to be uncle to learn English. From this language course he never returned to his homeland. The fighting in the Civil War had intensified even further, and eventually the mother followed the daughters to India.
“Dad did everything he could to change power in a controlled way,” Najibullah says. “He tried to agree with the UN that the Security Council would send troops to Afghanistan and he would only resign after that. The father saw the danger in creating a power vacuum. ”
It happened differently. The UN announced Najibullah’s resignation in April 1992 before the Security Council considered the matter. Troops were never deployed, and Muslim fighters gradually took over more territories and also political power.
“Victims of wars have no representative in the negotiations.”
Heela Najibullah sees many similarities to the current situation here. The stability of Afghanistan needs more than just an agreement between the government and the Taliban to support him. He doesn’t believe the beautiful promises tailored by the Taliban at the negotiating table will keep it going. She also fears that the voice and aspirations of women and ordinary Afghans will not be included in the negotiations.
“Victims of wars have no representative in the negotiations. There are no concepts involved, such as a transitional justice system or a unifying law, and at the same time war and violence continue in Afghanistan. ”
The position of women in Afghanistan collapsed under Taliban rule, and therefore the promises of women’s rights made at the negotiating table sound unbelievable.
Najibullah, along with educated Afghans like him, has set up a foundation that publishes My Red Line campaign site. Ordinary Afghans get out there. Their experiences of war and their thoughts on peace are directed at peace negotiators in Doha.
So far this “Red Ribbon” campaign has published on social media the thoughts of six million Afghans on what is most important to them in achieving lasting peace.
Images and videos are made by professionals and are subtitled in English.
The aim of the campaign is to bring to the negotiating table a wider range of issues than the actual agenda, which must be taken into account if lasting peace is to be achieved in the country. The key addition is the desire for a kind of truth commission.
“There have been so many wounds in forty years that these injustices, mistakes and crimes need to be identified and addressed in order to achieve a lasting reconciliation,” Najibullah says.
My Red Line has appealed to many decision-makers and individuals known as peace promoters to gain support and visibility for the campaign. Also the president Tarja Halonen has received the letter.
President Najibullah’s house arrest after his ousting lasted for four and a half years, from April 1992 to September 1996. During that time, he lived in a UN-controlled area under prison-like conditions.
Najibullah was allowed to call his family in India once a week, on Saturdays, and the call was allowed to last no more than an hour. Najibullah usually shared equally between his wife and three daughters.
The UN then calculated that 15 minutes of expensive satellite phone time was enough. However, the family collected the money themselves and sent it to Kabul to keep the talk time within an hour.
Heela Najibullah last spoke with his father the night before the murder, in September 1996. He was then 18 years old.
“Dad was a strong man. He never showed his weaknesses or possible fears. His voice was just plain, but there was something in a hurry in the call, ”Najibullah says.
He recalls asking what it means for the Taliban to be 40 kilometers from Kabul. The father had reassured his daughter and asked her to take care of her mother and sister.
When Heela Najibullah returned from school the next day, she heard on BBC international radio news that her father had been murdered in Kabul. He called the UN base in Islamabad, Pakistan to get confirmation.
“They said they can’t confirm the news. I asked how it is possible that ‘the father is in your possession in Kabul and you cannot confirm whether he has been killed’. ”
The daughter was told to wait. A few hours later, a call came to confirm that President Najibullah and his brother were dead.
Taliban forces had forcibly dragged the president out of UN territory. After that, they had hanged the president and his brother and hung them on a traffic light pole.
The brothers’ bodies hung on the pillar for many days. The murder remains unresolved despite family requests and efforts. Heela Najibullah believes there was a Pakistani security service with US support.
The international transmission of information and images about Taliban-ruled Kabul was different then than it is today. There is no moving image of the event. Later, the Taliban has released some foggy photos.
The murder of his father aroused the desire for revenge in the mind of the young woman who was just graduating from school. First the feeling encased, then erupted and finally gave way.
In Switzerland, Najibullah used his mother’s maiden name, Jelani, and he did not tell anyone about his background.
At the father’s request, the eldest daughter took care of her family’s greatest sorrow and shock. He had already applied for and obtained a place to study in England and Australia, but neither country granted him a visa. Eventually, in his twenties, he found himself a pleasant and interesting university in Switzerland.
Switzerland and student life gave Heela Najibullah the opportunity to be like anyone else. He used his mother’s maiden name Jelani and did not tell anyone about his background.
In Switzerland, Najibullah became more acquainted with the International Red Cross and found his life mission. She had first seen the organization’s logo as a little girl in Kabul when the Red Cross vaccinated schoolchildren.
Najibullah returned to India with the organization to develop local activities. The next mission took me to Indonesia, to tsunami-ravaged Aceh in 2005. There, his colleague was an Afghan doctor. As a result of the joint discussions, Heela was ready to change his name back to Najibullah. He also understood that the homeland needed his input as well.
Heela Najibullah says his own wounds have been scarred. He is not bitter but strongly believes in the goodness of the people.
In addition to their five-year-old daughter and husband, all fellow travelers – including Finns – can benefit from this warmth. Najibullah says that his current family has a strong image of Finland and Finns. It dates back to the 1970s. Najibullah’s wife was born in 1977 in Helsinki to a diplomatic family. Although the parents were foreigners, they received a maternity kit. And when her own mother’s milk was not enough, the boy got to drink breast milk donated by Finnish women.