Iconic Afghan commander, Amir Ismail Khan, known as the Lion of Herat, says the recent Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has been a ‘coup’ and the result of the betrayal of former President Ashraf Ghani.
The news website Entekhab, has conducted an exclusive interview with Ismail Khan who was briefly captured by the Taliban before escaping from the militant group. The first part of the interview follows:
There are several prominent names in the history of jihad and resistance in Afghanistan. Alongside Ahmad Shah Massoud, Mazari and Rabbani, the name of one of the greatest heroes and political and military leaders of the last 43 years of Afghanistan is shining: Amir Mohammad Ismail Khan. He is an influential figure in Herat who has been the governor of this province and even its neighboring areas for many years. Ismail Khan was one of the pioneers in the struggle against the communist regime in Kabul, and a few years later he stood up to the Taliban. Although he was captured by the Taliban as a result of deception by people around him, he later escaped from this captivity thanks to his genius. He stood up to the Taliban again and defeated them to liberate Herat, creating a golden age there based on construction and prosperity.
In the recent Taliban offensive, Ismail Khan, earlier than other jihadi leaders, raised the banner of fighting against the Taliban and managed to keep them behind the gates of Herat for nearly two months. This time around, his recapture by the Taliban happened due to betrayal and deception on the part of the central government and Ashraf Ghani himself. Although Amir Ismail Khan is a military figure, he also has a cultural background. He has a sense of belonging to ancient Herat and, therefore, is interested in the culture, myths and civilization of historical and ancient Iran. In this cordial and familiar conversation, we asked him about the Shahnameh, the Persian language, Iran, and the myths of the Shahnameh. All the answers were encouraging and based on his freeman culture and his love for Iran.
Although Ismail Khan is a Sunni Muslim, he has never been anti-Shia and in response to a question about this, he explicitly emphasized that his view of Shia and Sunni Muslims is the same. He was an honest friend of Iran. In the early years of the US presence in Afghanistan, it was Ismail Khan who bravely and courageously resisted the presence of US forces in Herat and prevented the surrender of Shindind Airport to the Americans. In fact, Ismail Khan endangered his power and government so that the Westerners would not settle in the territory of Iran’s a neighbor, and in this way he went to the brink of war and lost his beloved son in this battle. But he refused to follow in the footsteps of the Americans along the Iranian border, and it is interesting that Ismail Khan never recalls this sacrifice. Ismail Khan is a patriot, free man, progressive and at the same time a Muslim and a believer. He is also optimistic about the leader of today’s resistance, namely, Ahmad Massoud.
Here’s his interview with Entekhab news website:
Q: Mr. Ismail Khan, the first question, why are you called Khan? Were you a Khan and a landowner?
A: In Afghanistan, both landowners and military officers are called khans, and I was called a khan because I was an officer.
Q: When did you enter the struggle, in the era of Zahir Shah or Davud Khan or the Communist era?
A: I was a dissident during Zaher Shah’s reign. We thought that we should stand up to the injustices that were taking place. The system almost belonged to one family, and only those around the royal family and those who served the king could have a place in the system or command or forbid. Thus, people lived as incompetent and indifferent subjects, against tyranny or any order given by the king. In the time of Zahir Shah and in the time of Daud Khan, we thought that we should fight for a change in Afghanistan and push for social justice and an Islamic system. We always thought about this.
Q: Mr. Ismail Khan, when did the issue of Jamiat-e-Islami come up?
A: in 1978 when we staged an uprising and later when we were building fronts to fight the ruling regime and some parties came into being. They were Islamic parties. We merged with the Jamiate-Islami in 1979.
How was the uprising of Esfand 24, 1979? It was the first general uprising against the communists, right?
Q: How come Herat took the lead? Was it because the city was also inspired by some of the Islamic Revolution in Iran? I think Noor Mohammad Taraki accused Iran of being involved in this uprising. What happened that suddenly, a month after the Iranian revolution, that uprising took place in Herat?
A: Herat is an almost religious-cultural city, and the majority of the people are more broad-minded than most of the cities of Afghanistan. At that time, the presence of a communist government and the tyranny and oppression that took place also prompted people to rise up to save themselves. In particular, the attitude of the communists towards the Muslims in Afghanistan in general and in Herat in particular. The attitude of the communists, both in terms of belief and in terms of the atmosphere of oppression and tyranny they inflicted on the people; all these caused people to rise up to save themselves.
Q: It is said that in the period when Dr. Najib came to power, it would have been better for the Mujahideen to enter into a compromise with him and with a national colalition, the structures in Afghanistan would have been maintained. Don’t you think it would be better for them to enter into a compromise with Najibullah and maintain the regime?
A: Well, on the whole, the people of Afghanistan did not accept the communist government, and Najibullah was among those who were members of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency Khad, and most of the oppression took place in the pre-Najib era when he was the head of Khad. At the same time, oppression and tyranny had increased and Afghanistan was in ruins. Despite all this oppression, the people could not accept to form a government with them.
Q: After the Mujahideen won the war in Kabul on May 28, it is said that they did something wrong out of their inexperience and got into internal disputes. What do you think happened that they failed to form a good, sustainable government at that time?
A: Unfortunately, the leaders could not accept each other during their exile. As a result, several parties have sprung up, and various parties have recently emerged within Pakistan so that they could pursue their aspirations in Afghanistan easily. [Pakistan] created different parties, and this caused those different parties to get into a lot of disagreements and fail to agree to form a government in which they could have a position and be able to establish a stable government in Afghanistan. It was both external interventions and the tastes or some selfishness of some of those figures that unfortunately created this situation.
Q: The first time you were captured by the Taliban, you were treated badly. You were able to save yourself very heroically. Is there anything you can say about this?
A: With a very big intention to save Afghanistan, we chose to go to Herat through northern Afghanistan, because it also has strong fronts. There were forces of (Abdul Rashid) Dustom and Malik (Abdul Malik Pahlavan). When we went there, unfortunately, the internal disputes between Malik and Dustom caused Malik to communicate with the Taliban, and with the connections he had with the Taliban and the interactions he had with the Taliban…
Q: Were you having dinner?
A: It was morning and we were drinking tea for breakfast. He invited us to get ready for an attack on the Taliban. When we left, we saw it was a trick to drag us into the room. They attacked us and had already taken the guards somewhere farther away from where we were. Unfortunately, we were arrested. At the same time that they arrested us, they took us into a valley to kill. When they took us down the hill, the Taliban arrived. They said, “Our first condition with you was that you hand over Ismail Khan to us.” [As a result] they had to hand us over, so they came back, brought and took us to Faryab. We were in Faryab prison at night. We came to Kandahar and we were in Kandahar for three years after we were handed over to the Taliban. There, because of our long history of jihad, the guards who took care of us inside that prison contacted us and said that they were ready to work to save me. At first I did not believe and I was like, “Maybe it’s a deception”. Then, when I said, “Well, I can believe your words if you take my letter to our house and bring the letter from our house”, they took the letter and brought it to us. I was like, “Well, we will take action to select you”. I said, “If you are right, then take your family to Iran first so that we can be sure”. They said, “If you help us, we will do it”. I wrote a letter to my children saying that these people are coming. You have to pay for them to buy a car if they bring their family to you. Rent a house for them and help them settle, and they brought their family, and they brought back a letter that said, “They took their family here, and we helped them settle”. He brought us and his nephew from Iran to Kandahar and bought a Land Cruiser car in Kandahar. One night he told me they would get me out of prison the following evening. My hands and feet were in shackles. They brought me new shackles. He shouted at me and said we have to break these shackles use these new ones and will give you the key. They opened those shackles and I was thrown in new ones. Then at 3 am, he came and opened the gate. When he opened the gate, we got out of prison and got on the car that had been bought, and we moved to Iran.
Q: How long were you in prison in total?
A: Three years.
Q: During these three years, did they not respect you as a veteran jihadist and chained you?
A: I was in shackles but there were no threats or insults.
Q: After the US attacked the Taliban, were you able to easily visit Herat and liberate it from the Taliban?
A: No, again when I was released from prison, on the way, I was hit by a mine and wounded in the border areas of Afghanistan’s Zabul and Nimroz. From there we came to Iran. I was in Iran for about another year and a half until we moved away. After moving away, we went to Afghanistan. This time around, we went to another central province of Afghanistan, that is, Ghor province. We went to Chakhcharan and Ghor. We were in Ghor and Badghis for about six months. We liberated them and Ghor’s districts.
Q: When did this happen?
A: The year of 9/11. It happened in 2001. When we were in Baghdis, 9/11 happened. After Baghdis was liberated, we moved toward Heart and liberated it.
Q: In 1995 you were imprisoned. In 1997, you were released and in 1998 you returned to Afghanistan and two years before 9/11, you were fighting?
Q: After you became the governor of Herat, you formed a southwestern constituency that included Herat, Farah, Badghis, Ghor and Nimroz. And you built a lot during that time and developed the area, right?
A: Things that exist in Heart…Herat turned from a ruin into a real city. Many things were built, for example, universities, industrial estates. Much progress has been made in the fields of health and education. There was a lot of road construction and urban development.
Q: The Americans and Khalilzad were constantly trying to limit your power, right?
A: Well, one of Khalilzad’s wishes was that he could somehow kick me out of Heart. In the heart of other provinces, there was insecurity and war, and so on, but in Heart, there was progress and solidarity, and most importantly, I organized a good army. A large army. We also conducted a military drill and invited Khalilzad. A 10,000-strong contingent took part in the maneuver. We had tanks, we had planes. We had warplanes. This made Khalilzad and the Americans very sensitive. They thought that with this military hardware, if what they wanted was not provided, especially when they asked us to fly to the airport, we would not hand it over to them. They asked us for a base to come from either Germany or the United States. I told them, “As long as I was there, we would not allow them to because it was safe there”.
Q: You mean there were no foreign troops in Herat?
A: No, we did not allow foreign troops to come to Herat while we were there. This made them very sensitive, and that was why they started a war against us, and in that war, we fought a serious war for 15 days and nights, but they could not enter Herat. From Kandahar, Farah, from Ghor, Uruzgan, even Ghazni, they brought a large army, and the Afghan army soldiers were parachuted down to Shindand airport, and the Americans entered the field directly by warplanes. The battle lasted for 15 days and nights. They captured only Shindand airport, but they could not enter Heart. Then both sides called a truce and agreed that they would not come to Herat and we would not go to Shindand airport. Things went on that way until Mirwais was martyred. They finally asked me again to come to the Ministry of Mines. But I did not go. For three months, they asked me to go the ministry but I did not accept the offer. Finally, they insisted that I go to a ministry and I went to the Ministry of Energy and Water…
End of part one
Part Two: https://ifpnews.com/ismail-khan-iran-can-pressure-taliban-into-forming-inclusive-government