By Christian Parenti
17 April 2012
In the teahouses and street stalls of Kabul, one sometimes sees the portrait of a stern, round-faced man with dark hair and a mustache. It is the visage of Muhammad Najibullah, the last president of communist Afghanistan. Najibullah joined the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) in the late 1960s, ran Afghanistan’s highly organized secret police, the KHAD, and then became the country’s president in 1986. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Najibullah hung on to power for another three years. Taliban fighters eventually killed him in 1996.
On occasions when I have asked Afghans in Kabul about the Najibullah posters and postcards, their replies have ranged from “He was a strong president—we had a strong army then” to “Everything worked well and Kabul was clean.” One teahouse proprietor, using the familiar form of the name, stated simply that “Najib fought Pakistan.” In other words, he is remembered not so much as a socialist—a vague term for many in Afghanistan—but as a modernizer and a patriot.
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