The lure of Afghanistan

Former Afghan freedom fighter from Monroe is going back to help form a stable government

By Susanna Ray

Herald Writer

MONROE — Until a decade ago, Aziz Sadat wore a beard and carried a Stinger antiaircraft missile gun as he traipsed around the mountains of Afghanistan, battling Soviet soldiers with his fellow countrymen.

Now clean-shaven, he lives in a beautiful home near Monroe with a basketball hoop and wooden play fort in the backyard and a Bart Simpson figurine keeping the fish company in a tank in the living room.

His wife, Faiza, just began studying nursing at Everett Community College. His five boys attend local schools. He owns a health food store and an import-export business in Monroe.

Aziz Sadat

And he’s ready to give it all up for the sake of his homeland.

"I am willing to leave my life here to go and help anytime," Sadat said at his kitchen table Friday afternoon, flipping through a photo album that switched back and forth jarringly from turbaned, armed men in fatigues to school portraits of his smiling children.

He eventually hopes to move his family back to Afghanistan to help rebuild the country, but for now he is planning a shorter trip of two to three weeks sometime in the near future.

He intends to visit the northern part of the country, not his home city of Kabul, to meet with leaders of the various Afghan ethnic groups for discussions on how to establish a government to replace the ruling Taliban.

The groups asked him for help because "they know that I’m very open-minded and they know that I never took sides with any tribes," he said.

Sadat came to the United States in 1973 as a high school exchange student in Longview and stayed to study architecture and political science at the University of Washington. He eventually sought political asylum here and became a U.S. citizen around the same time the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

He went home for a few months every year after that to fight with the Afghan freedom fighters, and he led a drive in Seattle to collect money and supplies for them. But those trips stopped in 1991 when the struggle for power turned into a civil war after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.

In the meantime, he married and had children with the daughter of a man he fought with in Afghanistan. The civil war shattered his dreams of taking his family to Afghanistan, so instead the family moved eight years ago from Bellevue to Monroe, where the boys, ages 5 to 13, attend public schools.

His children have never been to Afghanistan, but they know its geography and history and speak its language, thanks to Sadat’s strict no-English rule at home.

While the Afghan community in Washington is close-knit, it is small — only about 300 statewide — and spread out, Sadat said. So his family has been grateful for the phone calls of support and bouquets of flowers brought by Snohomish County neighbors and friends.

"We’re lucky to be in Monroe," he said. "We have a great community here, and everyone has been very kind to us."

Sadat also has another Snohomish County man to thank for helping free him from a Pakistani prison on his last trip to Afghanistan in 1996, when he went to try to start a school.

He was accused of being a spy because Taliban forces found a copy of the U.S. Constitution and letters of recommendation from Northern Alliance leaders in his backpack. The Taliban kept him for a few days, then turned him over to Pakistan, where he was imprisoned for two months.

When he didn’t return home on time, David Montgomery sprang into action. Montgomery, a Boeing engineer from Sultan, had met Sadat in the mid-1980s, and together they founded an Edmonds-based organization called Freedom International, which helped people fleeing communist countries.

Montgomery called then-U.S. Rep. Jack Metcalf, whose district included most of Snohomish County, and Metcalf worked with the U.S. State Department to secure Sadat’s release.

It was during that trip, Sadat said, that he first realized that other Arab nations were working with the Taliban and had turned his home country into "a good breeding place for terrorists."

In an interview with The Herald in 1998, after the United States had bombed Afghanistan in retaliation for the attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which were blamed on Osama bin Laden, Sadat spoke of his fears of increased violence.

"Terrorism will spread," he said then, warning that the death of bin Laden would do nothing to stem it because "there are a thousand like him."

On Friday, Sadat repeated the views he expressed in 1998, that only a change in U.S. foreign policy, not bombs, will stop terrorism.

"There’s a way to deal with terrorists, but not this way, going in and bombing areas they’ve already left," he said, skeptically adding that he thinks the attacks are too little, too late. "The problem is that (the terrorists) are not living in one country. They’re all around the world."

He also stuck by his assertion that the United States has contributed to the rise in terrorism by supporting unpopular governments in such countries as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt, which has pushed dissidents toward extremism.

Still, Sadat said he will be grateful if the current U.S. and British bombing raids free his homeland of the Taliban.

"When it’s ended, I hope the Americans aren’t going to pull out like they did in 1992 and leave it in chaos," he said.

Sadat doesn’t have rosy expectations for those efforts or for his planned meetings with the ethnic groups in Afghanistan.

"The country will probably not function in my lifetime," he said. "But somebody’s got to do something."

His wife is anxious about his upcoming trip, Sadat said, but she understands, and she even started studying nursing this quarter so she can be of help, too, once the family moves back to Afghanistan.

"I’ve gone so many times, and she never complains," he said. "She worries, but she has the same mentality of helping the Afghans. It’s not going to happen if we just sit at home in comfort."

You can call Herald Writer Susanna Ray at 425-339-3439

or send e-mail to ray@heraldnet.com.

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