Growing Up An Afghan Warlord's Son

Renee Montagne recently returned from a reporting trip to Afghanistan. While there, she talked to young Afghan men, who are the sons of former warlords. The men who spent their youths fighting the Soviets on the battlefields of Afghanistan, sent their sons to universities abroad.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Of the various scenarios that could unfold for Afghanistan after 2014, one group that isn't talking war, the sons of the men who became known as warlords.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Kabul and met 27-year-old Adib Fahim. His father was a man who rose to power with a gun, a mujahideen who battled the Soviet Army through the 1980s.

ADIB FAHIM: My memories of when I was younger are full of horrors of the war - when I was four or five, of jets flying around above the sky in the village where we were living, and hearing the sounds of bombs getting dropped. Most of the time, our family was led by my mother, and like all the women of Afghanistan who are really the true heroes of the Afghan war.

MONTAGNE: Your father, would he have been away a lot of that time, fighting the Soviets?

FAHIM: Right. Right. We did not really get to see him a lot.

MONTAGNE: Adib's father, Marshal Mohammed Fahim, has a name both famous and infamous in Afghanistan. He was a leader of the Northern Alliance - the former mujahideen, mostly from the north, who helped drive out the Taliban government.

After 2001, Fahim moved into high political positions under President Hamid Karzai and is now a vice president. Over the years, he's escaped death during several assassination attempts.

The father of Matin Bek was not so lucky. A tribal leader and member of parliament, Abdul Motalib Bek was killed by a suicide bomber on December 25th, 2011.

Behind the high walls of a quiet garden in Kabul, Matin Bek spoke of how his father in his 20s was fighting the Soviets. Matin's earliest memories from the 1990s were of powerful men - some with their own militias - gathering at his home, and how even as a child he understood something bad could happen.

MATIN BEK: I had never remember a day, whenever we was to go somewhere with my - for some political event, or somewhere of my father was invited; we would never travel in one car. He would never take me with him to that event. If we would go, we would go in different car. So it meant from the beginning, they have a life which is anytime they can be killed, so we shouldn't be killed all together. In a way, we were prepared for that. It was a shock, but it's a harsh reality of a country which is in the war.

MONTAGNE: Why would your father have been the target of an assassination? Who wanted him dead?

BEK: He was not killed because he was a member of parliament. He was killed, he could mobilize more people if something would gone wrong or after 2014.

MONTAGNE: When you say mobilize more people, would that include more armed people?

BEK: Well, yeah.

MONTAGNE: But, says Matin Bek, since his father was assassinated, things have changed. He believes it's no longer thinkable that men like his father might take up arms again. Bek says his generation sees the long-term partnership agreement with the U.S. as a sign Afghanistan won't be left behind. And the Afghan army, he says, is now mostly viewed as a source of protection. Still, Afghans well remember when they were last abandoned; it was the early '90s. The Soviet army had withdrawn, Russia stopped funding Afghanistan's own army, which collapsed along with the central government. That power vacuum led to a civil war with the heavily armed mujahideen fighting over Kabul, leaving the city destroyed, tens of thousands dead and accusations of terrible atrocities. Among the names that emerged from the chaos in that dark time is Rashid Dostam(ph). He is the father of 23-year-old Bator Dostam(ph). Like these other sons, Bator Dostam defends his father.

BATOR DOSTAM: (Through Translator) First of all, it's in the past and I don't believe some of these allegations are true. But, there was some of the, you know, it was this power struggle and my father was accused of a lot of things. And for me, you know, whenever he looks at me, he says you are the future. He looks at me, he says I believe you can do something in the future.

MONTAGNE: Now, just barely out of university, Bator Dostam is being groomed for a life in politics. His father has the connections, the money and, not lost on Afghans, a TV station to keep his son in the public eye. Adib Fahim has already been an advisor to two ministries after getting a Master's degree in public policy from New York University. Matin Bek is among the most influential people in his generation. With his master's degree in political science, he's a deputy minister who oversees the appointments of the country's many local leaders from mayors to the governors of provincial districts. The only appointed leaders Bek doesn't help name are the governors of provinces, still personally chosen by President Karzai. For Matin Bek, this is a mission.

BEK: Where I work, most of the people are young. We want to bring a change and we are trying to bring a change. For example, for the first time, district governors are passing a test, you know. We are recruiting district governor on merit basis.

MONTAGNE: And before, what, district governors were cronies?

BEK: Were politically appointed. And recently, we're appointing them through merit. We believe that. The root of insurgencies in the village, if we can deliver services through a good district governor, if we can mobilize people, if the local government is accountable, responsive to the people and transparent, we will have a stable society all together. So, we are trying for that. And, of course, we will not be perfect. You know, 100 percent it will not work. I will be happy if 60, 70 percent works. I'm not an idealist. I take all the reality into account. And I think that works and that's working.

MONTAGNE: These young men think in terms of political systems, civil society and the lessons of history. I put it to Adib Fahim: could he foresee himself picking up a gun?

FAHIM: Well, those who did, like my father, those who face such that situation, they did not do it out of their desire, but that was imposed on them. And as an Afghan, as a patriot, I think if I have to raise the gun to defend the country, to defend common human values, I will do that.

MONTAGNE: Do you think there's any realistic likelihood of that?

FAHIM: Oh, well, I cannot foresee the future. However, today, the terms have changed and the younger people, like myself, who are hopeful of becoming players in the future of the country, we do not have to be playing in the same way that the previous generation did.

MONTAGNE: The sons of warlords past on Afghanistan's future on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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