News from yesterday that Gen. Abdul Raziq, age 39, the Afghan police chief responsible for security in southern Afghanistan, was killed during a meeting at the Governor’s Palace in the province of Kandahar, brought back many memories: Indeed, my final meeting with senior Afghan officials several years ago involved Gen. Raziq and took place in the same compound where he was killed.
The provincial intelligence chief was also killed in Thursday’s attack, which injured two Americans. Remarkably, Gen. Scott Miller, the new commander of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan who attended the same meeting, was left unscathed. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Striking such a high-level security forum among senior military officials sent a strong message, both to the Afghan government and to the international community: We can strike anywhere and even the most senior of your military leaders cannot escape our reach.
I first met General Raziq in late August 2012, on my third day in Kandahar as Senior Civilian Representative for southern Afghanistan, serving alongside the U.S. Army’s Third Infantry Division out of Fort Stewart, Ga. He had just escaped death following yet another bombing, as I wrote in my diary at the time:
Visited a nearby hospital room to see General Raziq, the Kandahar chief of police nearly killed in a bus bombing a few days ago. He is younger than I expected and badly burned though doctors expect a full recovery. Raziq embraced General Huggins warmly and was very talkative, expressing appreciation for his “brothers” in the American Army.
Our military welcomes General Raziq, describing him as a “rock star” for his ability to provide stability and keep the peace. The embassy is more circumspect, concerned about the allegations of human rights abuse that surround him.
That brief diary entry captures in five sentences a lot about Gen. Raziq — and a lot about the challenges the United States continues to face in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history.
Gen. Raziq was a larger than life figure, a survivor who somehow outlived numerous Taliban attempts on his life, at least eight involving suicide bombers. Reportedly illiterate and certainly lacking in formal education, he was nonetheless as tough as nails, both admired and detested by those that mattered most to him — the people of southern Afghanistan.
Those same conflicting views repeated across southern Afghanistan were mirrored among expatriates then serving in the region, including both soldiers and civilians.
By and large, the military supported Gen. Raziq and even admired him, viewing his personal networks, knowledge of the region and fearlessness as vital assets in the brutal and seemingly interminable war against the Taliban. The fact that the Taliban had killed both his father and his uncle during the 1990s fueled his hatred as well as his apparent need for revenge.
In contrast, the U.S. Embassy and much of the international media were highly skeptical, with more than a few viewing him as a homicidal psychopath. As the senior U.S. diplomat serving in southern Afghanistan, I was advised by the Embassy in Kabul to minimize contact with Gen. Raziq and those around him.
Another diary entry, this one from February 2013, echoes these same themes:
Our discussion focused partly on Raziq, the Kandahar police chief who terrifies the Taliban. Already several attempts have been made on his life — and the effort is continuing.
Reporters I encountered in both Kabul and Kandahar were scathing, citing his reported involvement in torture:
One journalist asked how “we” could support Raziq. . . she thinks he is unredeemable and should be held accountable for his sins.
Looking through old photographs, I notice one from my final meeting at the Governor’s Palace in Kandahar in late August 2013, just days before my departure from Afghanistan after a year of service involving numerous meetings with both ordinary people and senior officials and tribal leaders across southern Afghanistan.
One such visit, to Zabul north of Kandahar in April 2013, ended with a suicide bombing that left my translator, a fellow foreign service officer and three American soldiers dead. As with Thursday’s attack, life and death comes down to a matter of seconds and yards.
Gen. Raziq is a commanding presence at the conference table in that picture (seen above). He is sitting directly across from me. The Afghan officer on his left is leaning back, half asleep; the Afghan officer on his right is looking down at his notes.
As for Gen. Raziq, he is self-conscious and very much alive, displaying his jarringly impish face, slight smile and steely eyes, eyes that even then had already witnessed unimaginable violence and survived repeated attacks on his life. He is gesturing with his hand.
Throughout that year I always thought of Gen. Raziq as someone who would continue to work with a series of generals, politicians and others and very possibly outlive all of them.
Yet now he too is dead, providing yet another blow to ongoing efforts to bring peace and security even as more than 2,000 soldiers from the Georgia Army National Guard‘s 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team based in Macon, Ga., where I now live, prepare to deploy in early 2019 for a nine-month assignment in Afghanistan.
According to initial reports, Gen. Raziq was killed by one of his own security guards. A few more seconds and the four-star general commanding the entire U.S. contingent in Afghanistan might easily have become another casualty.
Other Afghans with whom I served have been killed in recent years including Deputy Gov. Patyal, a young Afghan poet with three small children who abhorred violence and believed in negotiations with the Taliban.
While reflecting on his death, I also recall the lines in Pushto painted on a concrete wall at nearby Camp Nathan Smith which I visited often, the center of our efforts to forge a new and different path for Afghanistan:
If the desert becomes a garden,
It will be good;
And if the people become happy,
It will be good;
And if the child of the Afghan
Is free from the claws of war
And the trap of poverty,
It will be good.
Rereading those lines more than five years later, it is depressing to think that this day seems as far off as ever.
Jonathan Addleton is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of International and Global Studies at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. A retired Foreign Service Officer, his assignments during a 32-year career included service in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia where he served as ambassador. His most recent book is titled The Dust of Kandahar: A Diplomat Among Warriors in Afghanistan (Naval Institute Press, 2016).