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'Afghanistan couldn't be captured'

February 07, 2006 18:24 IST
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After spending 15 years in India -- ten as ambassador and five as a student in the early 1970s -- Afghan Ambassador Masood Khalili has moved on to a fresh posting to Turkey.

In the concluding part of his fascinating interview to Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt and Nikhil Lakshman, he recalls the memories of India he takes with him, about that day when the Taliban captured Kabul and the determination of him and his friends to return the gates of Kabul one day.

I: 'The Taliban have returned' | II: 'Americans are not occupiers'

III: 'Leaving the snake half wounded more dangerous' | IV: 'May God not put any country in the fire we were in'

V: 'India's positive role in Afghanistan should be recorded in history'

What is the memory that stays with you during these 10 years? Was it Commander Ahmed Shah Masood coming to Delhi?

Indeed it was. It was one of the most important memories for me. Ever since his death this has become a memory. And he was sitting right there, on that chair (points to a chair oopoosite him).

When the Taliban took power in Kabul. I received a call at night from Commander Masood. I asked, 'Are all our people safe?' and he said, 'Yes. Everybody is out of Kabul? How are you?' I said I was ok. Then I read him a poem my father had written:
'Oh the tyrant
Don't think that I'll be giving up
With one wound that you struck me
Wait for me in the other battlefield
For another war

He liked it. He laughed loudly and said, 'Yes, this is the motto.' Then he shouted to someone else to hear the poem.

Our forces were defeated, the Taliban captured Kabul, and a hero like our commander was sitting in his basement, calling his friend in Delhi and telling him he had left Kabul.

The next morning, I went to the Indian foreign ministry. Mr Vivek Katju and others were there. I told them what had happened. I told them we will accept whatever you do because the Afghan embassy was here and Kabul had been captured. I told them whether you recognise Kabul or not, we will fight to the last and we will return to the gates of Kabul. He simply said we will never recognise them (the Taliban).

What a moment.

For an ambassador, whose city, whose birthplace had been captured. His friends and his hero were in the mountains. Knowing that Pakistan had sent the Taliban. Al Qaeda was there, Osama bin Laden and there were hundreds of Arabs, Chechens, insurgents from Sudan, even from America and Britain. My heroes were out of Kabul but they were determined to return.

Afghanistan couldn't be captured.

So I came back, and told my staff that India is not recognising the Taliban. This city will be the centre of the movement against the Taliban. I called the commander after an hour. He was a bit tired. I told him the Indian foreign ministry told me they do not recognise the Taliban. He said, 'I expected it. Thank you.'

I have spent 15 years of my life in this country. I studied here -- I did my BA in Delhi College and MA from Kirori Mal College. I have spent 10 years as the ambassador and 5 years as a student. Maybe I was a better ambassador that time because I was among the people as a student.

What is your sweetest memory of India?

As a student? When I came here I didn't know English. I said I cannot understand political science and took a friend of mine to the principal. I told him to translate for me.

He translated everything for me and I left college and went to my room in Karol Bagh where I was staying at this great lady's place -- Mrs Biswas, a Christian lady. She was 70 years old and she said I will teach you English, but you must become a Christian.

I looked at her and asked myself why should I learn English through the Bible rather than through a simple English book? I thought I couldn't convert but I should not displease this lady. So I said, fine.

My father was the ambassador in Iraq. So after two hours, I called him. Making a telephone call was very hard at that time. Thirty, 35 years ago, to find a telephone and call was hell.

I said to my father that here is a lady who wants to teach me English on one condition: that I became a Christian.

My father laughed! And said it was better to learn English through a holy book. It's good for your heart, son. And he recited a beautiful poem. He was a poet.

Synagogues and temples and church and mosques are lit by one light
Don't fight with your heart. Be faithful

And I learnt English! This is the good thing. After two months, I received two letters. One from the one who I wanted to marry. She was in Kabul, she wrote in Persian. And the other one was in English. It read 'You have not come to college in 60 days.'

And I said my goodness! My father will kill me. Then, all of a sudden I became very happy. I said, I can read the letter without anybody's help! I will never forget that moment!

Then I rushed to college and talked to the principal. The principal said hold on, call Dr Jaffrey (who had translated for me before) -- is he the same boy of two months ago? And he said I could attend the classes.

It was 1972.

I am writing a book on my life, hopefully it will be called My Mistakes.

What mistakes?

I will put that in the book!

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