Anti-communist guerrilla who became Afghan president dies

FILE-in this Dec. 16, 2003, file photo, Sibghatullah Mujadidi, former President of Afghanistan and Chairman of the loya jirga, or grand council, presides over the third day of sessions in Kabul, Afghanistan. Mujadidi, who served as Afghanistan's first president following the ouster of the invading Soviet army and the collapse in 1992 of Kabul's pro-Communist government, dies. He was 93. His former spokesman Sharif Yusufi says Mujadidi died overnight Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, in the Afghan capital. (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash, File)

Sibghatullah Mujadidi, Afghanistan's first president following ouster of Soviets, dies at 93

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's first president following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country and the collapse in 1992 of Kabul's pro-communist government, Sibghatullah Mujadidi, has died. He was 93.

The white-turbaned and soft-spoken Mujadidi was a mentor to former President Hamid Karzai, who had belonged to his anti-communist resistance group during the 1980's Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Mujadidi's guerrilla group — the U.S.-backed Afghan National Liberation Front — was perhaps the smallest and most moderate of guerrilla groups fighting to oust the former Red Army from Afghanistan.

The Soviet invasion came at the height of the Cold War between America and the former Soviet Union. The last Soviet soldier withdrew from Afghanistan on Feb. 15, 1989, ending a 10-year invasion that had failed to defeat the U.S.-backed anti-communist guerrillas who were known at the time as mujahedeen, or holy warriors.

President Ronald Reagan called the mujahedeen freedom fighters. Some later became the Taliban while others were known as warlords who later turned political leaders in Afghanistan. Some rights activists have accused the warlords of fomenting Afghanistan's post-2001 decline, contributing to the nation's insecurity and widespread corruption.

Following the collapse of the communist government, Mujadidi in 1992 served for two months as Afghanistan's president in line with an agreement signed in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, by the leaders of all the mujahedeen groups who had fought the former Soviet Union.

Mujadidi stepped down as he said he would, according to the agreement, but his successor, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was to serve for four months instead hung on to power for four years. The agreement broke down and a brutal war between rival mujahedeen groups engulfed the Afghan capital of Kabul, killing tens of thousands of mostly civilians until the Taliban took power in 1996.

During the Taliban rule, Mujadidi lived outside of Afghanistan and returned to the country following the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that drove the Taliban from power. He served as head of the first post-Taliban Loya Jirga, the 2,500-member council of elders or "grand gathering" that eventually crafted Afghanistan's current constitution.

He also briefly served as head of the government High Peace Council tasked with trying to find a peaceful end to Afghanistan's war.

An ethnic Pashtun from Kabul, Mujadidi came from a deeply respected religious family, who often advised former Afghan kings on matters of religion.

"He was always seeking peace and stability for Afghanistan, but he died before he could see his wish fulfilled," said Attaulrahman Salim, deputy head of the peace council. "We are still a country at war."

President Ashraf Ghani declared Wednesday a day of mourning to commemorate Mujadidi. All government institutions, banks, offices and schools would be closed.

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Associated Press writer Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

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