Abdul Haq (Afghan leader)

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Abdul Haq
Abdul Haq 1.jpg
Abdul Haq, c. 2000
Born(1958-04-23)April 23, 1958
Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan
DiedOctober 26, 2001(2001-10-26) (aged 43)
Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan[1]
Years of service1977–2001
Battles/warsSoviet–Afghan War

Abdul Haq (born Humayoun Arsala; April 23, 1958 – October 26, 2001) was an Afghan mujahideen commander who fought against the Soviet-backed People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, the de facto Afghan government in the 1980s. He was killed by the Taliban in October 2001 while trying to create a popular uprising against the Taliban in Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11th attacks.[2][1]

Early life[edit]

Haq was born in Seydan, Afghanistan, a small village in Nangarhar province, into a Pashtun family. He moved with his family to Helmand early on in his life. His father, Mohammed Aman, was the representative in Helmand for a Nangarhar construction company, and was relatively wealthy by Afghan standards.[3] His family was well connected, part of the Arsala Khel family, which is a part of the Jabar Khel (a subtribe of the land-owning Ahmadzai tribe). They are all ethnic Pashtuns. His paternal great-grandfather, Wazir Arsala Khan, had once been the foreign minister of Afghanistan; a cousin, Hedayat Arsala, was a World Bank director working in Washington, D.C. who later became Vice President of Afghanistan in Hamid Karzai's administration.[4]

Haq also had two older brothers (Haji Din Mohammad and Abdul Qadir), and one younger brother (Nasrullah Baryalai Arsalai). An early backer of Hamid Karzai, Abdul Qadir was rewarded with a cabinet position before he was assassinated in 2002. Haji Din Muhammad is the leader of the Hezb-e Islami Khalis party.[5]

From his own account, Haq was an unruly child, who after persuading his father to register him for school at the early age of five, once hit a teacher who was sleeping on the job.[6] A year after that his 51-year-old father died of kidney disease, prompting Din Mohammad to assume leadership of the family,[7] and prompting the family to move back to their extended family in Nangarhar.

Back in Fatehabad, Haq began attending a Madrasah under the tutelage of local mullahs, and once reaching the age of eight, began studying at the Lycée. It was here where he started challenging the Communist ideology of some of his teachers.[8]

Mujahideen years[edit]

Haq first engaged in the fight against the Afghan government in 1978, initially without external support, then with the Hizb-i-Islami faction led by Mohammad Yunus Khalis—not to be mistaken with the Hezb-i-Islami faction of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. During the Soviet–Afghan War, Haq coordinated Mujahideen activities in the province of Kabul.[5]

Haq also defended the use of long-range rockets against Kabul despite the fact that those rocket attacks were causing casualties among the civilians.[9] Haq said:

I have to free my country. My advice to people is not to stay close to the government. If you do, it's your fault. We use poor rockets; we cannot control them. They sometimes miss. I don't care about people who live close to the Soviet Embassy, I feel sorry for them, but what can [I] do?[9]

Haq was one of the CIA's few Afghan contacts in the early years of the war. Steve Coll wrote that he "grew to become Howard Hart's most important Afghan guide to the anti-Soviet war."[10] Later in the 1980s he became a critic of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and (after his relationship with them ended) the CIA.[11] The CIA labelled him "Hollywood Haq"—the Hollywood Commander.

Haq was injured several times, including the loss of part of his right heel. Because of his injuries, he often fought battles against the Soviets from horseback.[12]

Kabul Airport blast[edit]

In September 1984, Haq ordered the planting of a bomb at Kabul Airport which killed around 28 people, mostly Afghan students en route to the Soviet Union.[13][14][15][16] The blast also injured around 200 people present at the airport.[17]

According to Haq, the purpose of the blast was 'to warn people not to send their children to the Soviet Union'.[14]

Post-war period[edit]

Haq was the cabinet minister for internal security in the Islamic State of Afghanistan which had been created by the peace and power-sharing agreement known as the Peshawar Accord after the fall of the communist Najibullah regime in April 1992. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had been offered the position of prime minister, refused to share power with other parties and started a massive bombardment campaign against the capital Kabul. Hekmatyar's attacks led to a prolonged war in Afghanistan. Shortly after this Haq resigned as interior minister, left Afghanistan and settled in Dubai, where it was reported he became a successful merchant.[12]

In 1998, he became a United Nations Peace Mediator.[12]

In January 1999, unknown assailants killed Haq's watchman, entered his home, and murdered his wife and son in Hayatabad in Peshawar, Pakistan. Another of Haq's sons survived the raid.[18]

Northern Alliance[edit]

Abdul Haq (pre-October 2001)

From 1999 onwards a process was set into motion by Ahmad Shah Massoud and Haq to unite the various ethnic group in Afghanistan against the Taliban regime. Massoud united the Tajiks, Hazara and Uzbeks as well as several Pashtun commanders. Besides meeting with Pashtun tribal leaders and acting as a point of reference, Haq received increasing numbers of Pashtun Taliban who secretly approached him.[19] Some commanders who had worked for the Taliban military apparatus agreed to the plan to topple the Taliban regime[20] as the Taliban lost support even among the Pashtuns.

Senior diplomat and Afghanistan expert Peter Tomsen hoped that "[t]he ‘Lion of Kabul’ [Abdul Haq] and the ‘Lion of Panjshir’ [Ahmad Shah Massoud] would make a formidable anti-Taliban team if they combined forces. Haq, Massoud, and Karzai, Afghanistan's three leading moderates, could transcend the Pashtun—non-Pashtun, north–south divide".[21] The senior Hazara and Uzbek leaders took part in the process just like later Afghan president Hamid Karzai. They agreed to work under the banner of exiled Afghan King, Zahir Shah, who was residing in Rome, Italy.

In November 2000, leaders from all ethnic groups were brought together in Massoud's headquarters in northern Afghanistan travelling from other parts of Afghanistan, Europe, the United States, Pakistan and India to discuss a Loya Jirga for a settlement of Afghanistan's problems and to discuss the establishment of a post-Taliban government.[22][23] In September 2001 an international official who met with representatives of the alliance would remark, "It's crazy that you have this today ... Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazara ... They were all ready to buy in to the process".[24]


Following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, Haq entered Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan from Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to implement his resistance plan against the Taliban. Some sources have speculated that the CIA supported this initiative but family members and other witness sources[25] have denied this claim writing that the CIA actually urged him not to enter Afghanistan. Former CIA director George Tenet reports that, at the recommendation of Bud McFarlane, CIA officials met with Haq in Pakistan and after assessing his capabilities urged him not to enter Afghanistan.[26] After a chase,[26] he was captured by the Taliban along with nineteen others between the towns of Hisarak and Azro in Nangarhar province, and was killed on October 26, 2001.[5][1] The Guardian speculates that his capture was due to a betrayal by double agents.[12] Some reports soon after his death blamed the CIA for siding too closely with Pakistan's ISI, which did not wish to see Afghans united across ethnic lines, and for failing to intervene to rescue him from his Taliban captors. The veracity of this version of events was strengthened by reports of tension between Haq and American agents after an interview in which he stated "we cannot be [America's] puppet." He was one of many Afghan rebel leaders opposed to the U.S. intervention.[27]

An obituary in The Guardian called Abdul Haq an "astute leader".[12]


  1. ^ a b c "Pakistan Arrests Alleged Killer of Afghan Leader Abdul Haq". Voice of America. October 28, 2009. Retrieved 2021-08-21.
  2. ^ "Taliban Claims Its Troops Pursuing American Advisor Who Arrived In Afghanistan With Abdul Haq". Pravda. 2001-10-27. Archived from the original on 2012-10-05. Retrieved 27 September 2010. RIA Novosti correspondent reports that the Taliban considers the capturing and execution of prominent Pushto field commander Abdul Haq and his 50 followers as their biggest victory.
  3. ^ Kaplan (1990), pp. 145–146
  4. ^ Kaplan (1990), p. 147
  5. ^ a b c Khan, M. Ismail. "Taliban execute ex-guerilla commander: Last moment rescue operation fails", Dawn, October 27, 2001. Retrieved September 25, 2006.
  6. ^ Kaplan (1990), p. 146
  7. ^ Kaplan (1990), p. 67
  8. ^ Kaplan (1990), p. 148
  9. ^ a b Holmes, Dave; Dixon, Norm (2001). Behind the US War on Afghanistan. Resistance Books. p. 62. ISBN 9781876646226.
  10. ^ Coll (2004), pp. 53–54
  11. ^ Coll (2004), pp. 166, 206
  12. ^ a b c d e Abdul Haq: Veteran Afghan leader seeking post-Taliban consensus rule, The Guardian, October 29, 2001
  13. ^ Davidson, Christopher (6 October 2016). Shadow Wars: The Secret Struggle for the Middle East. Simon and Schuster. p. 137. ISBN 978-1-78607-002-9.
  14. ^ a b Curtis, Mark (4 January 2018). Secret Affairs: Britain's Collusion with Radical Islam. Serpent's Tail. p. 112. ISBN 978-1-78283-433-5.
  15. ^ Corera, Gordon (11 August 2011). The Art of Betrayal: Life and Death in the British Secret Service. Orion. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-297-86101-0.
  16. ^ Wyatt, Ray (19 November 2016). Plan Prediction: Which Policy is Preferred by Which People?. Springer. p. 166. ISBN 978-3-319-46430-5.
  17. ^ Urban, Mark (1988). "Seven: 1984". Seven: 1984. In: War in Afghanistan. SpringerLink. pp. 137–161. doi:10.1007/978-1-349-18975-5_8. ISBN 9781349189755.
  18. ^ AFGHANISTAN Detention and killing of political personalities Archived September 30, 2006, at the Wayback Machine, Amnesty International, March 1, 1999.
  19. ^ Tomsen (2011), p. 565
  20. ^ "The Afghan Solution". Lucy Morgan Edwards. Archived from the original on 2012-07-15. The central theme of the book is Edward's investigation into a major Afghan-led plan for toppling the Taliban: a plan which existed for two years prior to 9/11, and which had buy-in from senior tribal leaders, commanders within the military axis of the Taliban, possibly the Haqqani network, Commander Massoud and senior Taliban who were willing to bring about a new order. The ex King was to provide the 'glue' around which these different groups would coalesce.
  21. ^ Tomsen (2011), p. 566
  22. ^ "Council of Afghan opposition". Corbis. 2001.
  23. ^ Marcela Grad. Massoud: An Intimate Portrait of the Legendary Afghan Leader (1 March 2009 ed.). Webster University Press. p. 65.
  24. ^ "The lost lion of Kabul". The New Statesman. November 2011.
  25. ^ Afghan Warrior: The Life and Death of Abdul Haq, BBC
  26. ^ a b Tenet (2007), p. 218
  27. ^ Slavin, Barbara and Weisman, Jonathan. "Taliban foe's death sparks criticism of U.S. goals", USA Today, October 31, 2001. Retrieved September 23, 2006.


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