‘Warlord’, ’bandit’,’ patriot’, and ’politician’ are just a few of the terms used to describe legendary Pashtun Mujahid Commander Badshah Khan Zadran, sometimes called Pacha Khan Zadran, of the Paktia province in southeastern Afghanistan. This is a province in which he is alternately revered or hated depending on which side he, and his opposition, happen to be at the time. In the continuing charades of national and international politics, in which nothing is ever as it initially seems –– as is always the case here in Afghanistan –– Badshah Khan Zadran is diligently honing his negotiating skills, his weapons and his men, for the promised grail of 2014, when foreign occupying forces are scheduled to hand crucial security mechanisms back into Afghan hands where they belong.
Oozing a magnetic mixture of power, intimidation and deceptively benign self-righteousness, Zadran strode through the dramatically-fractured electric light beams emitting from dusty bulbs of the courtyard of one of his Kabul homes, to usher my companion and myself into the large guard house located just inside the barricaded entrance gate. In between profuse apologies for having to meet us in such surroundings because his traditional guestroom was under renovation, he was quick to point out that “the international community sees Afghanistan as nothing more than a business opportunity. It is a case of amassing profit at the cost of our country and our people and this is wrong”.
Enveloped in a traditional chador and imposing a tribal turban atop his now-lined and grizzled face, he sat cross-legged on dusty floor cushions sipping green tea and nibbling dried fruit and nuts as he offered his personal interpretation of things to come: “There was only ever one answer; one way to achieve peace in Afghanistan and that was thrown away at the Bonn Conference in 2001 when the international community chose Hamid Karzai over King Zahir Shah for president. If a loya jirga had been held then, King Zahir Shah would have been elected but the international community would not listen. They had their own ideas and imposed a puppet on us instead of the man people knew and trusted”.
Badshah Khan Zadran — reportedly a close friend of President Hamid Karzai who, immediately after what at the time was his ‘temporary’ presidential appointment, elevated the controversial Paktia personage to the post of the region’s provincial governor — is certainly no angel. Though he valiantly kicked the Taliban out of much of Paktia, Zardan promptly replaced their rule of terror with one of his own and through an incredibly tangled maze of rights, wrongs and shape-shifting –– including being elected to the Wolesi Jirga in 2005 –– has continued to be an extremely sharp and totally unpredictable, thorn in everyone’s side.
He explained that “2014 is a double edged sword”, as he sipped a second helping of green tea from the porcelain cup dwarfed in his beefy hand. “First, there is the scheduled withdrawal of foreign troops and the handing over of security to Afghan forces, who are unlikely to be ready for this major task. And secondly, there is the presidential election where, since no good person is available, another puppet will be imposed on us. The Taliban will, undoubtedly, be offered a role but, as a result of internal disputes between their own various groups, they will lose focus and collapse, taking the country and any chance of national unity with them”.
“As it stands,” he concluded, “There is no visible solution and there will be no peace.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2012.