He dressed casually, spoke softly but was deadly serious

War on terrorism: The Commander
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The Independent Online

In his last incarnation, as a voice of the moderate mujahedin, Abdul Haq looked more like a Central Asian Frank Dobson than a holy warrior.

I met him in Peshawar a fortnight ago at a gathering of former mujahedin – he was casually dressed, with a trim white beard, and soft, precise English. In the space of a few days I had met various former commanders anxiously trying to position themselves as future figures in a post-Taliban government, and with dreams of marching triumphantly into Kabul armed with Western rocket launchers. But none was so easy to take seriously as Commander Haq.

His realism came out in the way he spoke of the mujahedin's dismal past – the bloody, fraternal war which divided former allies after the Soviet withdrawal. But he talked with exasperation of how the US-Britishcampaign had sunk plans for winning over moderate Taliban commanders and peacefully undermining the regime. "We were trying to offer them a package," he told us. "A united government, no defeat by the Northern Alliance, and no attack by the US. When the attacks started that was a setback because it put the Taliban moderates in a weak position," he said.

He estimated that – before the bombing – potential waverers made up more than 50 per cent of the Taliban's leadership. "They're not with the Taliban by conviction, but out of war weariness," he said. "They thought the Taliban could put an end to war, but then they came to realise that, under them, it was endless."

Abdul Haq was right behind the idea of an interim government headed by the former king, Zahir Shah. He supported a broad-based government, but excluding "those who have made many mistakes" – the hardcore of the Taliban and the more discredited of the present Northern Alliance leaders.

And, unusually among survivors of Afghanistan's civil war, he remained an optimist. "If we can build a strong nation," he said, "with a strong army, and political freedom, then people like Osama bin Laden cannot survive."