Ahmad Rateb Popal was born into a well-known Afghan popal family in 1964 in Kandahar Province. Popal was a student when, in December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded and took over the country. "This changed our lives totally," he said. "The communists confiscated our land and property, and arrested my father, who disappeared along with some 100 members of my immediate family," he added, saying this marked the start of his involvement in the fighting in Afghanistan. "I went to Mas'ud's cousin's house in Kabul one evening, and they were preparing bombs and guns, and were going to buildings linked to the communists. I was told to plant a time bomb in the Russian embassy and was given four [more] to throw over the walls of the compound. But there was something wrong with the timing, and when I connected the wires it exploded in my hand, and I lost my hands and an eye," he said.
Following the incident, he travelled to Germany for a prosthetic arm, and ended up in the US, where he married an American woman. Although they had a child, the marriage was short-lived, and they divorced. However, his involvement with the civil war throughout the 1980s continued even whilst he was in the US. "I remained active with the Mujahidin soldiers who were injured. They were brought to the US for treatment," he said. But Aram Rostan's story published in The Nation in 2009 says that "Popal had been charged in the United States with conspiring to import more than a kilo of heroin. Court records show he was released from prison in 1997."
In 1997, he returned to live in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he was an interpreter for his friend Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan. "We fought against the Soviets to have an Islamic state, and the Taliban did enforce an Islamic system of government, but they took it to an extreme under the influence of the Arabs," he explained, asserting that he used to openly criticise the Taliban for their treatment of women and their attitude to education and entertainment. "I had real fights with Zaeef and other ministers, and most of them agreed that they were wrong. But since Mullah Omar had the power, nobody could change this," he maintained.
When the Taliban fell, Popal dedicated his time to his business activities. Ahmad Rateb Popal and his brother Ahmad Rashid Popal, who are cousins of President Hamid Karzai are the major share holders of Watan Risk Management which is a subsidiary of Watan Group. Watan Group is also affiliated with Commander Ruhullah of Kandahar Security Company who has a strong influence in Uruzgan province.
- ↑ IRIN Humanitarian news and analysis
- ↑ How US funds Taliban, The Nation
- ↑ US blacklists Afghan security firm tied to Karzai, Washington Times