Throwing open a dark chapter in Afghan history, Afghan officials have located the remains of former President Mohammad Dawud Khan and his relatives, who were killed in a Soviet-backed military coup in April 1978.
Dawud Khan was shot dead in Kabul’s presidential palace along with his wife, at least one of his children and several relatives. Their remains have now reportedly been located in a mass grave in the Pedigan wasteland near Pul-i Charkhi Prison on the outskirts of Kabul.
Musa Shafiq, prime minister under King Zahir Shah, and several of his cabinet ministers were shot dead a week after the presidential family’s massacre. Their remains reportedly were also buried in another mass grave in Pedigan.
Afghan communists who took control after the military coup never admitted to murdering the presidential family and cabinet ministers, and their site of burial had remained unknown until now.
News of the discovery was announced in Kabul this week by a special commission set up earlier this year by President Hamid Karzai to locate the remains of Dawud Khan and his relatives.
Pacha Mir, a former high-ranking official in the Afghan Defense Ministry, claims he personally witnessed the burial of the former president and his relatives -- and that he played a key role in finding their mass grave. In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Mir said Dawud Khan and 12 of his relatives' bodies "were transferred to the Pedigan desert in the black of the night straight after the military coup took place on April 27."
Mir said that "although it was very dark and there were orders to finish the work very quickly," he was able to recognize the former president's body "mostly because of Dawud Khan's relevantly short and heavy build."
'16 More Bodies'
According to Mir, the following night "16 more bodies of the presidential relatives, mostly women and children, were transferred to the same spot and buried in another mass grave." Mir said "the bodies were covered in blood, and all of them had apparently been shot."
Mir said the burial site was meant to remain a secret, but he had sought ways to remember the location so that one day it could be found. He said the only thing he could do without the others noticing was to measure the distance between the mass grave and the main road with his steps.
"It was 65 steps or roughly 65 meters," Mir said, "and I have remembered that number now for more than 30 years."
Mir, who now lives in Khost Province, had heard this month about the new commission set up to find the graves. So he contacted them, offering his help.
The bodies have reportedly been transferred to Kabul pending further identification.