Afghan Princelings: Are the Children of the Mujahedin Ready to Rule?

Educated in some of the best schools in the world, the scion of commanders involved in four decades of war return to a country at the crossroads. Can they transform the future of Afghanistan?

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JOHANNES EISELE / AFP / Getty Images

Former Afghan "mujahedin" attend a function in Kabul on April 28, 2012, marking the anniversary of freedom fighters' victory against Soviet forces

War made Abdul Mutalib Bek one of the most powerful men in the northern Afghan province of Takhar. In the 1970s, the conscript with little more than a mosque education abandoned his duties to join guerrilla fighters who — eventually with tremendous CIA backing — would force the mighty Soviet Red Army out of Afghanistan and topple the Kabul government propped up by Moscow. Bek survived subsequent power struggles with other commanders as the victorious mujahedin fought one another in a bloody civil war; then in his northern redoubt, he outlasted the Taliban, becoming an influential part of the new regime that took shape after the U.S. invasion of October 2001 overthrew the radical Islamists.

Bek’s son Matin has a different story. Sent to study in India, he engaged in debates over ideas he found in Plato, Hobbes, Locke and other major Western thinkers as well as Indian giants like B.R. Ambedkar, who championed the cause of the untouchables. The education, says Matin, 26, “gave me the strength to analyze and understand politics … In the campus where I lived, there were always rallies, speeches, discussions. I learned the power of youth — that was always a model in my mind.” Three years ago, after completing his master’s in political science, he returned to the politics of patronage in his father’s fief of Takhar to run the commander’s campaign for a seat in parliament. School, Matin says, taught him how to run a campaign but he admits to the “struggle of reintegrating” upon his return. To escape the stress of managing his father’s election, Matin would often sneak away from the old guerrilla’s gaze to light a cigarette on the rooftop of the family home. More importantly, for two hours a day, he would sit in a garden rocking chair to read.

(PHOTOS: Alixandra Fazzina Photographs the Flight of the ‘Flowers of Afghanistan)

The Beks are only one example of a generational transformation among the Afghan elite. As the mujahedin commanders assumed feudal powers in the post-Taliban era, their children went abroad to get degrees. Salahuddin Rabbani, son of Burhanuddin Rabbani, earned two master’s degrees, one from Kingston University in London and the other from Columbia University in New York. His sister Fatima Rabbani recently completed a master’s degree at the University of London. Adib Fahim, son of current Afghan Vice President and former commander Mohammad Fahim, got a master’s from New York University. Batur Dostum, son of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, earned a master’s from Gazi University in Turkey. The list goes on and on.

Having completed degrees in the most prestigious universities around the world, the younger generation is being groomed to inherit the legacies of their fathers. This passing of the torch is taking place at a critical if not tumultuous juncture. Will their Western, liberal education change the trajectory of the country’s future as NATO prepares to withdraw its troops by 2014 and as the resurgent shadow of the Taliban and their allies loom?

The preordained nature of the succession has already led to sarcastic responses in local social media. “Get to know your future leaders,” went one remark after a video of a meeting involving a mujahedin scion circulated.

That has not made the children of commanders any less shy about their political ambitions. Batur, 25, established a foundation in his powerful father’s name, which provides charity, emergency aid, as well as cultural and educational programs. The Dostum Foundation is an effort not only to soften the public perception of General Dostum, who has been accused of many atrocities, but also to launch Batur into the public arena. Ayna TV, also affiliated with the general, often runs reports on Batur’s meetings. One such report shows a statesman-like meeting between Batur — and his younger brother Babur — and the sons of Hazara commander Mohammad Mohaqiq. Cameras flash and notes are taken as the neatly dressed young men exchange thoughts.

Twenty-seven-year-old Adib Fahim, the Vice President’s son, is one of the few who, despite being actively involved behind closed doors, has yet to take a public role in legacy politics. But he has no illusions that it awaits him in the future. Having completed his master’s in public policy at NYU, Adib returned to Afghanistan to take up a job at the national security council — on the advice of President Hamid Karzai, an ally of his father — and then moved on to the Foreign Ministry. “There is no need for a discussion,” says Adib, when asked whether his father had told him of his political legacy — and inevitable responsibility. “There is a very strong understanding there.”

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Even as a child, Adib’s father brought him along to important meetings with commanders. Now the son is regularly at the father’s side during meetings with diplomats and officials, or on official trips abroad. “Occasionally, he has told me that, being his oldest son, I have to work on the legacy in the future. But there has been no need for him to even say that. It’s a natural process for me.”

Sometimes the succession comes through sudden tragedy. Burhanhuddin Rabbani, who served as Karzai’s chief peace negotiator with the Taliban in his final days, was killed by a Taliban turban bomber last September. His son Salahuddin left Turkey, where he was the Afghan ambassador, to lead his father’s political party, Jamiat“Salahuddin’s decision to take over Jamiat was a very given; I don’t see why it should have been a surprise for anybody,” his sister Fatima says. “My father had worked for Jamiat most of his life. It is only natural for his son to take it up. Who else should have taken over Jamiat, if not his own blood?” Months later, after a public jostling for the late Rabbani’s official position, Salahuddin was declared his father’s replacement to lead the peace efforts. Many among the old mujahedin guard publicly criticized the move, calling him inexperienced and young. Others, however, pointed to his multiple degrees from abroad.

In the south of the country, where fighting still continues with the Taliban, the children of the same generation of commanders are also inheriting their fathers’ political legacies, but they have lagged behind in education. For example, Kalimullah Naqib, 30, has only “six or seven years” of formal education and several years of religious schooling at Kandahar seminaries. After years as a highway contractor, he now fills the shoes of his late father, Haji Mullah Naqib, who was one of the most powerful men in southern Afghanistan before and after the fall of the Taliban. Mullah Naqib succumbed to a heart attack in 2009. Karzai attended the funeral, where he crowned Kalimullah to replace his father as chief of the Alkozai tribe. Protected by 22 security guards, Kalimullah meets with elders all day in his house in the suburbs of Kandahar, mostly to resolve disputes. “In Kandahar, people’s education is much less than the rest,” he admits, citing the constant violence as the reason. “In the north, most of their children got their education abroad. But for our people, if the opportunity came to educate their children right there next to them, they would do it. But they would not send their children abroad.”

Outside the southern provinces, however, the pedigree of education continues to count for a lot. In the late 1990s, when the Taliban ruled most of the country, Bek ensured that the schools remain open in the area he controlled and hired private tutors for his children, including Matin, one of 29 Bek offspring from four wives. Matin’s campaigning for his father’s parliamentary seat paid off in 2010. With 9,411 votes, Abdul Mutalib Bek was the third highest vote taker in the province, securing himself a seat in parliament.

Today, the father’s networks, cash and legacy prop up the son; and the son’s liberal education and perceived open-mindedness soften the father’s controversial image. “The force I worked with, [the young voters] were the real target of the voting, and they delivered,” says Matin. “I spent $30,000 maybe but I brought a huge vote for him.”

Matin too would inherit his father’s mantle earlier than he had expected. Less than a year into his term in parliament, Abdul Mutalib Bek was killed during a bomb attack at a funeral in Takhar. At his burial, young Matin was crowned his successor as the tribal chief. Then, the mujahedin commander’s old comrades called on the government to appoint the younger Bek to an important government post. Karzai — who was himself educated in India — obliged. Matin is now the youngest deputy minister in the government today. His organization is responsible for appointing all the governors and district governors — though a large number of positions are still handed on quotas to power brokers. Gone are the dark curls and scruffy look he wore while acting as his father’s campaign manager. Sporting well-fitted suits, he is driven around in armored vehicles. His BlackBerry rings constantly, with governors on the line. The question remains: Will the heirs of the mujahedin be able to transform the legacy of their fathers — and Afghanistan?

MORE: Afghanistan Now, Photos by Yuri Kozyrev

26 comments
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Abdul T Totakhil
Abdul T Totakhil

Unfortunately  the  people of Afghanistan are becoming blind again.   they  forgot what did these warlords do in the past and what did they do with the torn mother land when they came in power. i remember when i was kid and had seen my house in kabul and kabul city in the time of Dr.Najibullah , but when i visited kabul in year 2003, believe it or not these warlords and their fighters even snatched and took away the electric wires from walls of our home , i saw kabul there was nothing left for them to sell it to pakistan, every where i saw just dust and dirt which was useless for them i mean if they could sell it they would sell even the dust . not only what did they do in that time ,even today they they are not fed up yet .Billions of dollars came to Afghanistan and all big and multi millions contracts money goes to these warlords and their heirs pocket. The question whether the heirs of these warlords transform the legacy of their fathers? the answer is simple NO.  for me first of all they cannot be elected as country president because majority of people don’t like warlords  for their past deeds, secondly if they are elected as member of parliament or member of provincial council by means of  nepotism they would be  just a symbol and would try to suck the blood of the poor people and would try to fill up their pockets with money. They can’t  play effective  role  towards the challenges Afghanistan has been experiencing.

We have been experiencing the insecurity situation and corruption for more than a decade basis on the present governance and their corrupt leadership .Anger of people of Afghanistan is on the top, corruption is on the top, insecurity is on the top.etc

International community and  donors  did their support and aid part but in the wrong manner. The international  community  and donors have been giving these multi millions contract to these few warlords and their heirs  ignoring the majority population.

Anyways I don’t wana take your time lets come to the question,  I don’t think these heirs would transform the  legacy of  their fathers, my question is why these heirs acquired political education ? and who told them to do that? Its clear they will follow the same steps  of their fathers legacy and this thing would continue generation after  generation and it’s the sign of clear sectarianism . Afghanistan really needs nonpartisan new generation and full support and focus of international community towards them.

International community has always been deceived   by these warlords till now. How come international community is   ignoring the majority population and their demands and just support these few  warlords, this is the basis of public anger, insecurity and corruption in Afghanistan.

I assure international community, the day Nonpartisan new generation come forward  with new ideas , the ideas  of reconciliation Afghans, the idea to end corruption, the idea to win the hearts of people  by bringing the corrupt officials to justice  , the idea to implement rule of law, the idea to make government strong  by selecting the right person to the  right post to make  leadership  strong to face the challenges of terrorism drug trafficking and corruption Afghanistan government is facing today, the idea to make everything systematic .

People of Afghanistan should avoid sectarianism and should work for unity so they become one nation as Afghan and should motivate themselves towards their duties with dedication , honor  and transparency  . In the mean time I request the international community and donors to please stop further support of these warlords, try to focus and think  about the future of Afghanistan and betterness   of the region in long run , because the region where Afghanistan lies  is very important and Afghanistan has many challenges ahead to face  when ISAF and NATO troops withdraw . taking care of terrorism in the region is a big challenge today to the world and focus should be on the root cause of  terrorism and those factories who produce products. As soon factories run they will produce products but when factory stops it would no longer produce these products.

gh79
gh79

Reminds me of George Bush Sr, George Bush Jr and Jeb Bush. Somehow democracy always changes into oligarchy

insaf adelyah
insaf adelyah

Ghulam, your comment seems to reflect a state of mind that seeks ethnic bias and conflict.

 

Ahmad Ludin
Ahmad Ludin

"The teaching of the West’ philosophers Increased my wisdom’s fund The company of seers lit up My being’s very core." Iqbal

Beware, The Frankish (Western) Harmonium is no more in tune; Behind its notes, wails emerges not melodies. اہل نظر ہیں یورپ سے نومید ان امّتوں کے باطن نہیں پاک 

dimukh
dimukh

A country where the people are influenced by uneducated Mullahs and dictated by illiterate warlords, education is least important to them. Moreover, foreign education may be considered as 'haram' by the majority of anti-America and anti-West Afghans. To flex political muscle, foreign or high education is not a political forte. One has to culturally predisposed to think, talk and act like the common people to rule or lead the country.

sayyedzia
sayyedzia

anti america or anti west r much different then anti education abroad ... be careful ;)

insaf adelyah
insaf adelyah

Afghan society is historically fragmented and divided along certain identities. One of the reasons Afghanistan is cited as a potentially failed state is partly due to this social fragmentation.  

Therefore, the question vital to Afghanistan's future is how can a leader naturally emerge with an identity that is common to all of the various groups? 

sayyedzia
sayyedzia

y cudnt southern commanders offsprings go abroad fr a gud education ??? werent thier fathers mujahedin , or didnt they fought red army along the northern alliance ??? mostly from southern regions when a pashtuns son wants to go fr a gud education abroad then he is barred to do so, this is becaus he is called son of a talib or a terrorist for his father fought russians just fr d sake of Allah s.w.t ... n in north, leaders whom had gud affairs wid western world during soviet invasion, were private servants of america and r still serving CIA got d chance to send thier offsprings abroad peacefully to pursue a gud education abroad !!!

Ghulam Farooq
Ghulam Farooq

Southerns Mujahideen sons are sending suicide bombers to Kabul

Example 1. Sirajuddin Haqqani son of Jalaluddin Haqqani

Example 2. Shahabuddin Hekmatyar , son of  Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

sayyedzia
sayyedzia

wot about son of fahim , who stole d kabul bank ,

wot abt son of muhaqqeq who issues warrents fr killing innocent afghans just becoz they oppose muhaqqeq

wot abt son of dostum who plays wid d modesty of afghan women iin north ... well arent they having master degrees from WESTERN WORLD !!! to hell with such knowledge :/

Afghanyaftal
Afghanyaftal

This is sad to read the comments on this peice. I don't understand why the Afghan  educated young generation is also seen with suspicious and doubt the out side world. These young leaders are not like the sons of Zahir shah, Taraki, etc. as have been commented on here, they weren't born in palaces, most of them were born and raised in refugee Camps, they have seen and experienced the bitter experiences of life. They may be young but they are more experienced and mature. They are the future of Afghanistan, they have pen not gun in their hands.

AfghanWoman
AfghanWoman

I like to see what the daughters of these Mujahideens are doing for Afghanistan. If we're ever going to see change in Afghanistan it will be through the women, they should be equally promoted to receive their education and be allowed to work in government offices. Otherwise, I agree with the comment below from afghanrule, the previous Afghan leaders were also highly educated and all they did was destroy Afghanistan. Taraki, Amin, Najib, Daud, Zahir Shah, Amanullah and so forth, they were all highly educated. History tends to repeat itself in Afghanistan, just read the history of these previous leaders and compare it to the ones we have now and the ones we "may" have in the future. 

Ghulam Farooq
Ghulam Farooq

Dear N.A

Didn't you read in the report the name of a certain daughter of these mujahideen with as much credential as her male counter parts.

Be positive

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bojimbo26
bojimbo26

Which is why they don't want girls being educated .

insaf adelyah
insaf adelyah

Traditional subsistence farming usually requires the intensive manual labor of children (boys and girls) and this fact distracts from educational opportunities.  subsistence farming is not the challenge, however, access to education requires some form of surplus economy in order to divert the children's labor from the farm and towards education.

afghanrule
afghanrule

TIME fails to understand Afghan culture. Highly educated Afghans is nothing new and has not led to progress and development. Amin, Taraki, Karmal, Najibullah, monarchs, etc., serve as examples contradicting the notion that education, at least in Afghanistan, will result in social progress. On the contrary, Afghan culture values courage, valor, bravery above education. Further, Afghans usually see Western education with suspicion. It's fashionable for the current set of 'muj' rulers to send their children to fancy schools - it's part of the conspicuous consumption of US dollars!  Time is overlaying Western standards and practices onto Afghanistan, something the US government tried to do for the past 12 years, but failed. Why? Another reason is that Afghan culture amp; religion values afterlife more than the present life. 

afghanrule
afghanrule

TIME lacks insight into the Afghan culture. These 'highly educated' boys will grow up to be just like their fathers; FEUDALISTIC. The education is simply a validation of the feudal amp; violent culture that exists in Afghanistan. Further, the educational progress of northern Afghans does not mean they will inherit Afghanistan. On the contrary, the less educated Pashtun will continue to project authority over the rest of the country. History shows that many previous Afghan leaders and their children were highly educated, attending the Sorbane, Oxford, Harvard, Columbia, etc., however, the internicine warfare has historically trumped these highly educated minds. Why? Because Afghan culture prizes courage, valor, bravery amp; traditional Afghan behavior over Western education. So TIME is misleading readers into thinking newly educated crop of Afghans will fare any better. 

Did Amin, Taraki, Karmal - highly educated by any comparison - use their Western education to do anything other than torture, murder, and imprison rivals?  It seems highly educated in Afghanistan also means 'extremely dangerous.'

Ghulam Farooq
Ghulam Farooq

Gone are those days when Pashtun supremacist hegemony would rule Afghanistan. Today all the ethnic groups are empowered and armed to teeth. If yesterday they had the education only, today they hold considerable sway in every sphere of Afghan community. They dominate military, economic, culture and media! The tables have turned and your tone of pashtun nationalist and supremacist won't take you anywhere! Only a democratic approach where credentials and merit speak the ultimate word is the way forward where all live side by side regardless of which ethnic group they belong to. 

Get over your pashtunist mentality, educate yourself to be able to compete in future power structures in Afghanistan. Otherwise you would be doomed as there is no Imperial power to bring you to the throne.

sayyedzia
sayyedzia

mr ghulam jan , inshallah u will soon witness d power of pashtun , d only tribe who have resisted n still opposes d foreigners invading our beloved country d homeland of brave pashtuns by d name of democracy etc n some fools whom call themselves educated people follow thier path n support them as well ... lets hope fr d best n wait fr d day when pashtuns doom d real imperialists ;)

Ghulam Farooq
Ghulam Farooq

No My friend!

The British were brought by Pashtuns, got their myth broken by none pashtuns in Kabul, Kohistan amp; Kohdaman. On the retreat, bandits ambushed their children and women in Khyber pass and took the credit! Read some history.

Again, Russians were brought by none other but the pashtuns, so were the Americans who cam here and installed a Pashtun President.

Without Imperial blessing you can't rule a district!

Pashtuns brought thousands of Pakistani army personnel and arab volunteers to fight on behalf of them and to win them territory; fight against their own countrymen! 

Which fantasy land you are living in? Still speaking of the power of Pashtuns? Although, I won't be proud to incite violence and brandish my sword, no pride at all, but without Punjabi assistance, funds, volunteers, ISI advisor; you are nothing my friend.! Keep dreaming

I say , You get off your donkey and speak in civilized language and don't take violence as pride and Pashtun ultra-nationalism as virtue   Consider yourself equal as others, live with them side by side in peace. Compete with them in Education and advancement and in you really believe you are a force in Afghanistan show it in a democratic political manner!

Maryamz Hz
Maryamz Hz

Agree that all ethnic groups need to come together for an improved Afghan society. I also believe women there can make a huge difference for the country if given the chance. Raise sons who contribute to the country and discourage their participation with Taliban etc. They are the heart of the family, they can surely make a difference if given more opportunities to do so. Other countries have had to overcome bias from within their own countries against color and other ethnic groups and  against women as well, and many of whom were from democratic societies...Afghanistan certainly has more roadblocks to change their path and direction, but it can be done if the good people from each area decide together they can make a difference. Education and going abroad does help people see how others live with tolerance of each others differences. Blessings to Afghans who are trying to make a good difference for the future of their country.

insaf adelyah
insaf adelyah

Your comment reflects a state of mind that is seeking ethnic bias and conflict. 

 

Isaac
Isaac

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offthefront
offthefront

@ Samian-After a decade of war I think it's safe to say one thing. Dropping bombs produces more pissed-off jihadists to fill the place of the ones we kill. This article talks about the future leaders being educated in a manner that respects the indivdual and democracy.  Now they want to contribute to their government and solve problems politically instead of with violence. Isn't that what we wanted when we started? How can that be bad?

It probably would have been alot cheaper to give every kid a free scholarship rather than the way we've been doing it as well.

Samian
Samian

Educated jihadists? Well, that's just wonderful.  Hopefully they'll use *more humane* lethal injection as punishment on girls who go to school rather than shooting them outright in soccer fields.