KUNAR, Afghanistan -- He was known as one of the most diehard fighters that nearly four decades of war in Afghanistan has produced.
Since the early 1980s, Kashmir Khan had fought against the Soviet-backed Afghan communist regimes, fellow mujahedin factions, Salafi fighters, and the Taliban, and he opposed the Western-backed governments led by Presidents Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani since 2001.
Khan, estimated to be 80 years old, never formally reconciled with Kabul until his reported death in neighboring Pakistan on July 24, but he was buried with official honors in Kunar, his home province in eastern Afghanistan, on July 25.
“This man was a patriot and loved this land,” Kunar’s governor told hundreds of supporters and dignitaries who had gathered for his funeral prayer in the provincial capital, Asadabad, on July 25. In a telling sign of Khan’s local influence, Afghan Army soldiers accompanied his coffin and provided security at his funeral.
“He was estranged from the government for the past 15 years since the demise of the Taliban regime,” he said. “But his actions benefited the Afghan people. He did nothing to hinder Afghanistan’s development, reconstruction, and progress.”
Lawmaker Mawlawi Shahzada Shahid represents Kunar in the lower house of Afghan Parliament. He too had nothing but praise for Khan. “[Unlike many other mujahedin commanders,] he never engaged in atrocities or tormented civilians despite wielding enormous power,” he said.
Khan remained loyal to Hizb-e Islami, a pan-Islamist Afghan militant organization. The organization, now a mere shadow of its former presence as one of the most powerful anti-Soviet factions in the 1980s, is divided into pro- and antigovernment factions. A large number of its former leaders have benefited from being in the government, while a small faction under its leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has opposed the government.
Khan reportedly tried to patch up relations with Kabul following the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001. In later years, however, he emerged as the main force fighting against the U.S.-led coalition in mountainous Kunar’s Shigal district. This reportedly led international forces to announce a multimillion-dollar prize for killing or capturing Khan.
The insurgent faction of Hizb-e Islami now seems to be on the path toward reconciliation. In May, it signed a draft peace agreement with Kabul. But nearly two months later it is not clear whether Hekmatyar will be returning to Kabul anytime soon. The two sides are apparently debating the semantics of the draft agreement.
Meanwhile, Hizb-e Islami leaders inside the government insist on celebrating Khan as a hero.
Wahidullah Sabawoon, a government adviser and leader of the Hizb-e Islami faction who knew Khan since the 1980s, spoke highly of his former comrade. “Kashmir Khan always backed peace,” he said.
The mood in Kunar after Khan’s death is somber. Many are afraid of the young, unknown militant leaders who will now jostle to fill into shoes.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this based on Rohullah Anwari’s reporting from Kunar, Afghanistan.