In a Warrior's Enmity, an Afghan Sees Poetry

Times Staff Writer

Throughout a decade of war, Suleiman Layeq has been haunted by his "man from the mountains."

Layeq, a key Cabinet minister in the beleaguered government of Afghan President Najibullah, doesn't even remember the man's name.

But for Layeq, a celebrated Pushtun poet and author, the man from the mountains has come to symbolize the brutality, tragedy and increasing ambiguity of a war that continues to tear his nation apart.

Hero of Novel

For four years, Layeq has been using the man as the hero of his unfinished novel--a fictionalized account, all in rhyming verse, in his native Pushtu language--that is likely to be a most extraordinary and lyrical account of a war that already has left more than 1 million of his countrymen dead, 5 million others as refugees and the battle lines more blurred than ever before.

The novel is titled, simply, "A Man From the Mountains." And here's how the author described it during a recent interview in his modest Cabinet office in Kabul:

"This novel began from reality, from this man whom I arrested while I was commissar in my home place, a mountainous province in eastern Afghanistan along the embattled Pakistani border," Layeq said, smiling at the memory.

Rebel Fighter

"The soldiers brought him to me saying he was a counterrevolutionary, a rebel fighter with the so-called moujahedeen.

"But he was such a handsome man. He was so well proportioned, it was as if his body had been carved from marble. His skin was a radiant, reddish brown. And his face spoke of strength and power beyond the imagination.

"So I instructed the soldiers to let him go free."

It was a rare order from one such as Suleiman Layeq. A hard-line Marxist, he was among the founding members of the pro-Moscow Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan. He was instrumental in helping stage the April, 1978, communist revolution that overthrew Afghanistan's monarchy and triggered the prolonged, U.S.-backed guerrilla war by the Islamic moujahedeen resistance.

So committed--and creative--was Layeq that he wrote the national anthem of the new Marxist republic when the Peoples Democratic Party came to power that year.

When he met his man from the mountains while serving as party chief of Afghanistan's Eastern Military Zone in 1980, just a few months after 115,000 Soviet troops marched into Afghanistan to protect the new Marxist regime, Suleiman Layeq was a man to be feared by any counterrevolutionary in his midst.

'Refused My Pardon'

"But this man refused my pardon," Layeq continued. "I asked him, 'Don't you think that in such cases, people such as you may well lose their life?'

" 'Of course,' the man replied.

" 'Then why do you refuse my pardon?' I asked.

"He said, 'Why do you pardon me?'

"I told him that I did not want so handsome, so strong and so pure a man of our land to be put to death so foolishly."

"And he said, 'Thank you for your feelings. But I am also a man. I have pledged to be your enemy. If I accept your pardon, I must stop fighting you. And I do not break my pledges.'

"I was stunned. Not only did this man refuse the life I offered him, but he confessed to his crimes in the process.

" 'Why have you done this?' I asked him. 'You did not have to confess these things to me.'

" 'You gave me a kindness in offering your pardon,' he replied. 'So I return the kindness. I give you the truth, for I have nothing else to offer.'

"Such a personality, I cannot forget. When I write about him, even now as I speak about him, I again come under the same spell I felt when I was facing that man.

"All at once, I saw that beneath the personality of a simple Afghan man, there lay a great hero of this land. The path he has chosen for his heroism, of course, is something else. But even then, lately, I am beginning to wonder.

"The book, after all, is not yet finished."

Growing Ambivalence

In Layeq's compassion and admiration for his enemy nine years ago--indeed, the sympathy and growing ambivalence he harbors for him today--there are important hints that Najibullah's own government is increasingly divided over the war and its impact on their party's once "glorious revolution."

Ever since the Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan last February, the singular goal of Najibullah's regime has been survival--at any financial or ideological cost.

In wooing back internal support for his unpopular regime, Najibullah has abandoned almost every major principle of his party's revolution. Land reform has been scrapped in the traditionally feudal Afghan countryside. Private enterprise is being lavished with favors by a bankrupt government barely able to run a handful of state-owned factories. And Afghanistan's often barbaric, ancient social structure of tribes and clans, which Najibullah's party once vowed to dismantle, is now being resurrected with massive supplies of arms and money by a government too weak to control the vast and underdeveloped countryside only through its official armed forces.

Restrained Praise

Such reactionary departures have been met with restrained praise from a wary and war-weary Afghan public, but they have equally worried party hard-liners like Layeq. Diplomats and other analysts in Kabul suspect that the divisions in Najibullah's largely secretive party hierarchy may well be deeper than they seem, although they conceded that the president's powerful personality and the depth of the party's ongoing crisis are likely to hold it together in the short term.

"Still, it is true, there have been many changes in our country and our party lately," Layeq said sadly, frowning as he stroked the white Leninist goatee, a physical reminder of his ideological hero. "My book is changing, too."

And again, Layeq used his "man from the mountains" to explain.

'My Hero Is Changing'

"To be honest, I did not have any plan to lead the reader here or there in this novel," the 60-year-old Cabinet minister said. "But I had been trying to portray the life of a hero who began as a counterrevolutionary and later changed, turned against the rebel forces and joined our party in its crusade.

"But lately, my hero is changing in other ways. His love fails. He has seen too much bloodshed and death. It pains him that the heroes of the nation, men like himself, are continuing to kill each other in the shadows of the darkness that remains over our land.

"And I am getting a bit philosophical now about the ways a man changes. It is my hero who is leading me. I am not leading him. Once, for example, he cried. I did not want him to cry. He was too strong for that. But he moved my pen, and he cried.

"And lately, well, I am very worried about him--that something unpleasant will happen to him."

Layeq paused. He looked down at his old, battered desk and again stroked his white goatee. His eyes were wet.

"Now, I really don't know what is going to happen to him," Layeq said slowly. "And, as I said, the story is unfinished, so there is no map for me to follow."

After a long silence, Layeq was asked just how it happened that the real man from the mountains finally did go free nine long years ago: Did he accept your pardon, after all?

"Yes, he did," Layeq replied, smiling again with admiration, "but on one condition.

"The man said, 'I will go, but you must accept my pledge that I will continue to fight you.'

"Without a pause, I said, 'Yes, I accept your pledge. Go and continue your fight against me.

"And, so it seems, he has."

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