Languishing behind blue doors

Missing Persons No.32 Najibullah

Behind the blue doors of a United Nations compound in the Afghan capital, Kabul, dwells a powerful man whose fondness for wrestling and weightlifting led his schoolmates to call him "The Ox". In the three-and- a-half years he has spent inside the compound, ex-President Najibullah has had plenty of time to contemplate the accidents and miscalculations which put him there and to recalculate his chances of getting out alive.

By April 1992, Mr Najibullah had already surprised the world by managing to survive more than two years after Soviet occupation troops had given up and gone home. While the Soviet Union fell apart, its former puppet kept going. The Western diplomats who pulled out of Kabul with the Russians, assuming the billions of dollars their governments had given to the mujahedin would ensure the quick collapse of the regime, were made to look foolish.

For Mr Najibullah was never just a stooge. Like many educated Third Worlders, he was attracted to Communism as the only answer to his country's corruption and backwardness. Although he rose through the ranks of the secret police, where he presided over the torture of thousands, he was intelligent, energetic and uncorrupt. After Moscow chose him to replace Babrak Karmal, the man they invaded Afghanistan to put in power in 1979, he skillfully dissociated the regime from hardline Marxism. He managed to keep the armed forces as well as Afghanistan's urban classes on his side.

As he sits in his compound, wondering what he could have done differently, one name Mr Najibullah must curse is Benon Sevan. Mr Sevan, a UN diplomat trying to bring about a negotiated peace in Afghanistan, persuaded "The Ox" to make what turned out to be a crucial mistake: he agreed to step down before a deal had been made with his enemies. That convinced the regime's most powerful military commander, General Abdul Rashid Dostam, that it was time to switch sides, setting off a rush of peace deals all round the country.

Within weeks, the mujahedin, who had never mustered the discipline or tactics to have any hope of taking Kabul, were able to walk into the capital. Mr Sevan tried to smuggle Mr Najibullah out as a member of his entourage, but he was recognised at Kabul airport and had to turn back. He took refuge with the UN, remaining under the organisation's protection even after all international staff were pulled out.

Mr Najibullah, who like most Afghans has only one name, is looked after by local UN staff. His wife and children are in India. Sources say he passes the time by reading and watching BBC World Service Television. They refuse to confirm or deny the many rumours about him, among them that he has a serious kidney ailment.

In the first few months after his disappearance, it seemed the only way Mr Najibullah would ever leave his compound would be to go to his execution. The longer he remains alive, however, and the more his successors tear Afghanistan apart, the more he must be permitting himself some hope. He has never lacked self-confidence, and is only 48; perhaps he dreams of something more than simply surviving.

RAYMOND WHITAKER

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Lewis Hamtilon and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg
SportShould F1's most aggressive driver curb his instincts in title decider?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin