JALUDEEN HAQQANI, THE CHIEF OF the Moujahedeen Command Council, sits barefoot on a small pillow at his palatial headquarters in the Pakistani border town of Miram Shah, one of the strategic strongholds of the Islamic forces waging holy war in Afghanistan. During the half hour he has allotted for this meeting with foreign journalists, Haqqani's intense brown eyes dart quickly from field phone to fax machine to a large floor-sized map of Afghanistan, which his commanders say he paces, barefoot, when planning a battle.
Next to him, a tall, sullen-faced bodyguard fingers the leather on a beautifully tooled gun holster. It is fastened at the waist by the hammer and sickle of a Soviet army belt buckle, a poignant reminder that in the latter half of the 20th Century, the arrogance of white civilizers has been seriously dented by natives armed with a more overarching faith in religion, house and home.
Dozens of men, many of them lost in prayer, wait outside Haqqani's office, and in the course of the interview, almost 20 stream in, directed by an aide, asking for orders, advice or supplies. The armies that defeated the Soviets in a devastating 10-year war sprang from tribes led by men such as Haqqani, who serve not only as civil and military leaders, but also as religious elders. Having just returned to his office from leading prayers outside, Haqqani settles a dispute between two commanders over who gets the larger share of some supplies that have just come in from the Pakistani government. He is arbiter of the law here, and his word is rarely challenged.
Haqqani is a fundamentalist religious scholar and the son of an old tribal leader, representing both the shape of Afghanistan's future and the power of its past. For more than a decade now, he and the top commanders of the Moujahedeen Command Council, a loose grouping of the most powerful military figures in the opposition, have combined the strength of their culture with modern ordnance as a rebuke to those who have tried to remake Afghanistan in their own image. It is a melding that remains in place as Western resources are officially withdrawn from a country the West has armed to the teeth and continues, indirectly, to fund. After two centuries of less than satisfactory experiments with imported ideologies, Afghanistan, like much of the Third World, is trying to find a path that is more in line with its own traditions.
Haqqani speaks with the assurance of a man who has seen the tides of history shift in his favor. "Twenty years ago our people were Marxists. Leninists. Capitalists," he spits out, dismissing each "ism" with equal contempt. "Now they fight the holy war. They have changed."
Since the troops of the former Soviet Union completed their withdrawal in February, 1989, hundreds of Muslims from around the world have come to this dusty base camp in Miram Shah, just across the Pakistani border from Haqqani's home province of Paktia, to participate in the first big modern victory of the holy war. Success seemed far from certain in 1979, when Babrak Karmal was flown in a Soviet plane from exile in Eastern Europe to Kabul and, with the support of 80,000 Soviet combat troops, installed as president of Afghanistan. The war that would claim 1 1/2 million Afghan lives began. Ten years later, an angry and alienated Soviet military limped home, leaving behind the current president, Najibullah, thousands of military and technical advisers and a political vacuum that the Islamic powers moved quickly to fill.
Today the moujahedeen ("holy warriors") control most of the Afghan countryside, and the various tribes, groups and sects within them once again find themselves battling each other with the same ferocity that they direct at the current regime. "The problem," says Abdul Haq, commander of the Kabul region and another member of the command council, "is that the Soviets destroyed parts of the traditional fabric of Afghan society. The country has been invaded many times before. And always in the past, the religious leaders would call for jihad ("holy war"); the tribal leaders would provide the resources, and the people would fight." But in trying to create an egalitarian society, the communists broke down those distinctions and left nothing in their place. In many areas, they installed secular leaders who, backed only by Soviet troops, had little or no legitimacy.
"During the early years of the war," says Haq, "when we were fighting in the mountains, the CIA and Pakistan funded the fundamentalists because they figured that those groups were least likely to compromise with the regime. The problem is that the fundamentalists are now much stronger than the democrats. And they don't compromise, period."