Not all hail ‘Lion of Kan­da­har’

Crit­ics say U.S. ally had bru­tal side, was ‘part of the prob­lem’

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - World & nation - By Pamela Con­sta­ble and Sayed Salahud­din The Wash­ing­ton Post

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ever since his as­sas­si­na­tion 17 years ago, por­traits of Ahmed Shah Mas­sood, the leg­endary anti-Soviet and anti-Tal­iban fighter known as “the Lion of Pan­jshir,” have dom­i­nated of­fi­cial bill­boards, po­lice booths and truck wind­shields in this war-weary, hero-crav­ing cap­i­tal.

Now, “the Lion of Pan­jshir” has been up­staged by “the Lion of Kan­da­har.”

In the past few weeks, Kabul has been flooded with images of Gen. Ab­dul Raziq Achakzai, 39, a fear­some po­lice com­man­der and an­ti­in­sur­gent fighter who was gunned down Oct. 18 near his head­quar­ters in the south­ern city of Kan­da­har.

Raziq’s like­ness is now plas­tered on traf­fic cir­cles, blast walls and count­less taxi win­dows, grin­ning rak­ishly with sun­glasses perched on his mane or is­su­ing com­mands in uni­form. Some­times his boy­ish face is jux­ta­posed with Mas­sood’s craggy one, or a no­ble lion rests be­hind his sol­dier.

“He’s a hero; he saved our coun­try,” shouts a young cab­bie above the rush-hour din, an­swer­ing a query about Raziq. His taxi’s rear win­dow is cov­ered with a styl­ized pho­to­shopped trio of Raziq, Mas­sood and a fierce-look­ing lion.

“Busi­ness is good ,” opines Taj Mo­hammed, who is hand­ing out printed pho­tos of Raziq, spat­tered with blood-red splotches, at a busy bus sta­tion. “There is more de­mand for his images than other lead­ers who have been killed in re­cent years.”

Af­ter four decades of war, Afghans have no short­age of slain lead­ers to memo­ri­al­ize. But al­most all, in­clud­ing Mas­sood, are as­so­ci­ated ex­clu­sively with one eth­nic group or an­other — a dis­tinc­tion that has dark over­tones in a coun­try full of un­set­tled scores and un­healed scars. One group’s cham­pion is an­other’s butcher.

But the demise of Raziq, an eth­nic Pash­tun and Kan­da­har’s long­time pro­vin­cial po­lice chief, has been mourned by Afghans of ev­ery back­ground, mak­ing him a rare war mar­tyr to achieve hero sta­tus across the coun­try’s eth­nic fault lines. On so­cial me­dia, fans have paid him the ul­ti­mate com­pli­ment by re­plac­ing their pro­file pho­tos with his.

Politi­cians and lead­ers of ev­ery stripe flocked to his mourn­ing cer­e­monies in Oc­to­ber and de­scribed Raziq’s un­timely death (he looked a decade younger than his age) as an ir­repara­ble loss to the na­tion. He was shot dead, along with the pro­vin­cial in­tel­li­gence chief, af­ter leav­ing a meet­ing with the top U.S. mil­i­tary com­man­der, Gen. Austin “Scott Miller,” who es­caped un­harmed.

In a so­ci­ety where strong­men have long been ad­mired and their abuses rarely called to ac­count, there was an in­stant un­spo­ken con­sen­sus that Raziq’s re­ported ex­cesses were far out­weighed by his suc­cess in keep­ing Kan­da­har sta­ble and safe from in­sur­gent at­tacks.

But that con­sen­sus was not shared by Afghan and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights groups. Over the years, as Raziq rose through the ranks of the Afghan bor­der po­lice and then the na­tional po­lice, he ac­quired a rep­u­ta­tion for bru­tal­ity and venge­ful abuses. In com­bat­ing the Tal­iban on their home turf, he be­came an im­por­tant ally of U.S.-led NATO forces here but faced lo­cal ac­cu­sa­tions of cru­elty.

One of his most per­sis­tent crit­ics has been the non­profit group Hu­man Rights Watch.

Pa­tri­cia Goss­man, the as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of its Asia di­vi­sion, noted in a re­cent email that a U.N. re­port last year had iden­ti­fied Raziq’s po­lice force as es­pe­cially abu­sive. She said it was found re­spon­si­ble for “tor­tur­ing de­tainees by suf­fo­ca­tion, crush­ing tes­ti­cles and elec­tric shocks.” Raziq had re­peat­edly de­nied all al­le­ga­tions of abuse.

Goss­man, who vis­ited Kan­da­har two years ago to in­ves­ti­gate rights abuses, said that while Raziq was praised by Afghan elites and Western of­fi­cials for im­prov­ing se­cu­rity in the re­gion, his vic­tims were of­ten un­known tribal ri­vals or oth­ers who crossed him, and who had lit­tle av­enue for com­plaint. In some ways, she sug­gested, his ac­tions “ac­tu­ally fu­eled in­se­cu­rity.”

Raziq’s slay­ing sent shock waves through the coun­try, and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions sched­uled for two days later were de­layed for fear that vi­o­lence or in­sur­gent at­tacks could erupt. But some lo­cal Kan­da­haris, in­clud­ing tribal el­ders and leg­is­la­tors, pri­vately ex­pressed re­lief that Raziq was gone. Some said he had com­mit­ted or or­dered per- sonal and po­lit­i­cal mur­ders un­der the guise of fight­ing in­sur­gents.

“In Kabul peo­ple see him as a hero, but peo­ple in Kan­da­har do not think that way. He was part of the prob­lem,” said one leg­is­la­tor from the re­gion, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity. In the month since Raziq’s death, the leg­is­la­tor said, Kan­da­har has be­come much less vi­o­lent than when he was in com­mand.

PAMELA CON­STA­BLE/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Pedes­tri­ans pass a mu­ral Tues­day in Kabul of Gen. Ab­dul Raziq Achakzai, an Afghan hero who was killed in Oc­to­ber.

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