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Slain Afghan general cuts controversial figure

Passersby walk Tuesday in Kabul, Afghanistan, near a newly painted mural of Afghan Gen. Abdul Raziq Achakzai, who has become an instant national hero since he was assassinated in October.

PAMELA CONSTABLE/THE WASHINGTON POST

By PAMELA CONSTABLE AND SAYED SALAHUDDIN | The Washington Post | Published: November 29, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan — Ever since his assassination 17 years ago, portraits of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the legendary anti-Soviet and anti-Taliban fighter known as "the lion of Panjshir," have dominated official billboards, police booths and truck windshields in this war-weary, hero-craving capital.

Now, the lion of Panjshir has been upstaged by the lion of Kandahar.

In the past few weeks, Kabul has been flooded with images of Gen. Abdul Raziq Achakzai, 39, a fearsome police commander and anti-insurgent fighter who was gunned down Oct. 18 near his headquarters in the southern city of Kandahar.

Raziq's likeness is now plastered on traffic circles, blast walls and countless taxi windows, grinning rakishly with sunglasses perched on his mane or issuing commands in uniform. Sometimes his boyish face is juxtaposed with Massoud's craggy one, or a noble lion rests behind his soldier.

"He's a hero; he saved our country," shouts a young cabbie above the rush-hour din, answering a query about Raziq. His taxi's rear window is covered with a stylized photoshopped trio of Raziq, Massoud and a fierce-looking lion.

"Business is good," opines Taj Mohammed, who is handing out printed photos of Raziq, spattered with blood-red splotches, at a busy bus station. "There is more demand for his images than other leaders who have been killed in recent years."

After four decades of war, Afghans have no shortage of slain leaders to memorialize. But almost all, including Massoud, are associated exclusively with one ethnic group or another - a distinction that has dark overtones in a country full of unsettled scores and unhealed scars. One group's champion is another's butcher.

But the demise of Raziq, an ethnic Pashtun and Kandahar's longtime provincial police chief, has been mourned by Afghans of every background, making him a rare war martyr to achieve hero status across the country's ethnic fault lines. On social media, fans have paid him the ultimate compliment by replacing their profile photos with his.

Politicians and leaders of every stripe flocked to his mourning ceremonies last month and described Raziq's untimely death (he looked a decade younger than his age) as an irreparable loss to the nation. He was shot dead, along with the provincial intelligence chief, after leaving a meeting with the top U.S. military commander, Gen. Austin "Scott Miller," who escaped unharmed.

In a society where strongmen have long been admired and their abuses rarely called to account, there was an instant unspoken consensus that Raziq's reported excesses were far outweighed by his success in keeping Kandahar stable and safe from insurgent attacks.

But that consensus was not shared by Afghan and international human rights groups. Over the years, as Raziq rose through the ranks of the Afghan border police and then the national police, he acquired a reputation for brutality and vengeful abuses. In combating the Taliban on their home turf, he became an important ally of U.S.-led NATO forces here but faced local accusations of cruelty.

One of his most persistent critics has been the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch. Patricia Gossman, the associate director of its Asia division, noted in a recent email that a U.N. report last year had identified Raziq's police force as especially abusive. She said it were found responsible for "torturing detainees by suffocation, crushing testicles and electric shocks." Raziq had repeatedly denied all allegations of abuse.

Gossman, who visited Kandahar two years ago to investigate rights abuses, said that while Raziq was praised by Afghan elites and Western officials for improving security in the region, his victims were often unknown tribal rivals or others who crossed him, and who had little avenue for complaint. In some ways, she suggested, his actions "actually fueled insecurity."

Raziq's slaying sent shock waves through the country, and parliamentary elections scheduled for two days later were delayed for fear that violence or insurgent attacks could erupt. But some local Kandaharis, including tribal elders and legislators, privately expressed relief that Raziq was gone. Some said he had committed or ordered personal and political murders under the guise of fighting insurgents.

"In Kabul people see him as a hero, but people in Kandahar do not think that way. He was part of the problem," said one legislator from the region, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing concerns about security and tribal sensitivities. In the month since Raziq's death, the legislator said, Kandahar has become much less violent than when he was in command.

Raziq was also a lightning rod for attack, and he survived numerous assassination attempts by the Taliban, as well as a bomb planted in a guesthouse sofa while he was hosting a meeting in early 2017. It exploded when he was out of the room, killing six visiting emissaries from the United Arab Emirates.

He was also a restless, independent operator feared by influential people twice his age who built an empire across the Afghan south through political and tribal ties. Local journalists said even the provincial governor had to seek his approval for routine decisions.

Last year, Raziq began forming alliances with some government opposition leaders, and President Ashraf Ghani tried to fire him, but the powerful young police chief openly defied the order. Shortly after his death, Ghani named Raziq's younger brother Taduddin, a man in his 20s with no security experience and a more subservient demeanor, as his replacement.
 

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