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Dr. Najibullah Ahmadzai
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Najib the Bull

Najibullah led the communist government in Kabul during its last years when it was under siege. He came to symbolize its character more than the previous leader, Karmal. Huge, cunning, ruthless, and pragmatic, Najibullah played out a losing hand with skill and determination.

Najibullah attended the University of Kabul in the late 1960s with Masud, Hekmatyar, and many other important players in Afghanistan. Even in Afghanistan it was a time of student activism with the school split between Islamists and communists. Najibullah chose communism because it promised to improve the status of women and free the peasants from the oppression of the Khans. He killed another student during a political argument and had to flee to Iran. But he returned to finish his education and graduated a medical doctor in 1975.

Najibullah never practiced medicine, instead he joined KhAD, the secret police organized by the Soviets. KhAD arrested and tortured thousands of people. As leader of KhAD, Najibullah became the most hated man in Afghanistan. His enemies nicknamed him “Najib-e Gaw” or “Najib the Bull” because of his weight-lifter’s physique. Despite, or perhaps because of his reputation, the Soviets saw fit to make him head of state in 1986. They withdrew their troops in 1989, leaving him in charge.

Najibullah surprised the world by defending Kabul from the mujahideen for another three years. He tried to bring a peaceful reconciliation between the government and the rebels, but this was rejected. The end came when Dostum betrayed him and joined Masud. Najibullah raced to catch a plane for Moscow, but found his way blocked, so he and his brother fled to the United Nations compound in Kabul. Four boring years Najibullah spent in the compound, occasionally visited by Masudís intelligence chief, Fahim, who came looking for information.

Perhaps Najibullah deserved a bad death as much as any man in the country, but his end was still horrifying. In 1996, Mullah Omar captured Kabul. The Taliban broke into the UN compound and dragged Najibullah out into the street. They beat, hanged, and shot him, leaving his swaying battered corpse in the street, a sacrifice to the victims of KhAD.