Afghan Biographies

Popal, Ahmad Rateb Ratib

Name Popal, Ahmad Rateb Ratib
Ethnic backgr. Pashtun
Date of birth 1964
Function/Grade Head Watan Group of Companies
History and Biodata

2. Previous Functions:
Watan Risk Management is part of Watan Group, owned by brothers Ahmad Rateb Popal (picture) and Ahmad Rashid Popal, who are relatives (cousins) of the President.
Kandahar Security Group has been operating under Ruhullah (who only uses one name), another distant relative. Seven companies were dissolved and it includes Watan Risk Management, NCL, SSSI and LSG (20110315). They were allowed to continue until their contracts expire.
Head Watan Oil and Gas Company (20140709)

3. Biodata Ratib Popal:
Popal_RatibRatib Popal was born 1964 in Kandahar Province.He studied in Queens College in Flushing, New York.Popal. Popal said he was in jail in the U.S. from 1989 to 1997 for smuggling drugs.In 1998, he returned to live in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he was an interpreter for his friend Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's ambassador to Islamabad. When the Taliban fell, Popal dedicated his time to his business activities.

Born into a well-known Afghan family, 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.

The loss of his father when he had been just 15 years old had left him profoundly shocked emotionally, as he then found himself the only living male member of the family, prompting him to join an uprising against the communists. "I studied communism and didn't like it. I also studied Islam, and was very, very religious. I prayed five times a day and I moved closer to religion," he said. This was the time when the late leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmad Shah Mas'ud launched his operations in the Panjshir valley, and many people in Kabul were against the communists, he added.

Popal explained that most of the opposition political activities were being organised in schools, with young men being recruited. "We formed our own group in 1979. There were about 11 of us. One of my classmates was related to Mas'ud, and he was sending arms and explosives to Kabul to start an uprising," he said. Although Popal claims he was not involved in the planning of the uprising, he took part in the operations and a plan to overthrow the government.

"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. Taken to the military hospital in Kabul as a prisoner, Popal was treated for 100 days. However, he successfully lied about what had happened, and was spared by the government troops.

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.

Popal returned to the region, first to Pakistan, and in 1997 he decided to start a business in Afghanistan, where his saga with the Taliban began. "I saw business opportunities, and set up my steel factory in Kabul with help from the Chinese. That is how I got involved with the Taliban, particularly with Ambassador Zaeef. He is a very close friend of mine." Popal became Zaeef's English teacher and, following 11 September, Zaeef called on Popal to become his interpreter. "It was a Sunday afternoon when the street that Zaeef lives on in Islamabad was full of journalists. He called me over to his place as I lived nearby to help with translation during a news conference," Popal said.

"I went, but I did not want to sit with him, because I knew I would be exposed as a member of the Taliban, and I wasn't [one]. So I stood at the back of the room and translated for him, but this didn't work for the reporters, and they asked me to sit with him. Everyone thinks I was a member of the government but I wasn't. Zaeef was a close friend and I wanted to help him," he stressed.

Following his appearance in the media, Popal said there were numerous reports about his background which were not true. "At first people thought I was Mullah [Mohammad] Omar and then that I was an Arab, which was totally inaccurate," he said. Asked if he had supported any of the Taliban's policies, he said: "Some policies were excellent and others were not."

"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.

Zaeef was arrested by US forces in Pakistan on 5 January after his diplomatic status expired.

Popal emerged from obscurity to make millions in U.S. army convoy security following the 2001 removal of the Islamist Taliban. He went on to win rights to the first major oil and gas project. The Amu Darya joint venture with Chinese energy firm CNPC is the only major foreign investment in Afghanistan's estimated trillion dollars worth of natural resources that stands a real chance of succeeding and providing an alternative to income from aid. Other huge investments in iron and copper face collapse. Though the site's Soviet-built wells are pumping oil and selling it to a nearby refinery, disputes over budgeting between CNPC and Popal's company, Watan Oil and Gas, have halted drilling and exploration.

Popal's past, including allegations that his security firm bribed the Taliban for safe passage, fails to dent optimism that he and his Watan group of companies can make the project work. Popal explained he fell into smuggling after leaving Afghanistan to seek treatment for a wartime injury at the start of the 1979 Soviet invasion.

Caused by the early detonation of a bomb intended for Soviet soldiers, it cost him an eye, his left arm and most of the fingers on his right hand. "Jail did me a lot of good and bad," Popal said at his company office. "I was very religious beforehand. I studied a lot." Popal cast a striking figure alongside Taliban officials in the 1990s when he dabbled in fuel imports, with an eye patch to match his long black beard and turban. The patch has now been replaced by a glass eye and his grey beard is trimmed short.

He denies his security firm ever paid off the Taliban: "On one side, the Taliban were threatening us and on the other side, the U.S. was claiming that we were paying them off."

Popal complains that Chinese subcontractors owned by CNPC are charging too much for drilling and exploration. One source put the figure in dispute at around $105 million. A senior Pentagon official helping the oil project as part of the U.S. strategy to help Afghanistan develop its own sources of income said both Popal and the Chinese inflated costs. The Ministry of Mines and Petroleum has sided with Popal and asked CNPC to re-tender the contracts or face being kicked off the project. Former employees, however, allege the ministry adopted its position because of Popal's ties to the president and officials. (20140709)

Popal speaks Pashtu, Dari and English

Background Watan Group of Companies:

Watan Group(Nation Group) is a company based in Afghanistan that provides telecommunications, logistics and security services. It is owned by the Popal brothers who are believed to be cousins of Afghan President, Hamid Karzai. They are from the powerful Popalza isub-tribe, the same group that the Founding Father of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Durrani, and all of Afghanistan's former leaders belonged to. The largest shareholder in the company is Quayum Karzai, the brother of Afghan President, but he stated after a report was published, that he has no financial interest in the company. They have seven subsidiaries: AMP Trading, Ehsaan Construction, Navia Design, Sino-Afghan Steel, Watan Telecom, Watan Risk Management and Watan Oil & Gas. Watan Risk Management's clientele includes: USAID-funded Delouite, Checchi, Jhpiego, State University of New York (SUNY), American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) and other projects under the British and American militaries.

Seven companies are·being dissolved and it includes Watan Risk Management, NCL, SSSI and LSG (20110315). They were allowed to continue until their contracts expire.

Watan Risk Management is part of Watan Group, owned by brothers Ahmad Rateb Popal (picture) and Ahmad Rashid Popal, who are relatives (cousins) of the President.
Kandahar Security Group has been operating under Ruhullah (who only uses one name), another distant relative.

Ruhullah has been a famous commander of security companies for seven years and ran an unregistered company called for four years. It used to operate on the Kandahar-Helmand highway and then merged with Watan Risk, which escorts NATO supply convoys from Maidan-e-Shahr to Kandahar and Helmand. Watan Risk has been accused of paying tax to the Taliban and bribing them. Ruhullah said 98 percent of the process for Kandahar's official registration the company employs 2,200 guards had been completed. Now the permit only requires the President's signature, but he is no longer sure whether the president will give his approval.

Canada is severing ties with the controversial Watan Risk Management, an Afghan security firm, blacklisted last year by the U.S. military amid allegations of corruption and excessive violence. (20110605) Watan Risk Management, which safeguards Canada’s signature Dahla Dam restoration project in Kandahar, is being replaced by an as-yet-unnamed firm, as engineering giant SNC-Lavalin scrambles to finish the job. Among the revelations were details of a dramatic confrontation between Watan security guards and their Canadian overseers in February 2010, at the project’s management compound in Kandahar City. The guns hired to protect the project turned on each other in a “Mexican standoff” that ended with two private Canadian security officials fleeing for their lives on the next plane home.


Last Modified 2014-07-09
Established 2010-08-23