Air Chief Marshal Houston and Stalin · 1 November 2010

It has been revealed that six militiamen loyal to Matiullah Khan, a powerful warlord in Oruzgan province in Afghanistan, are being trained in Australia by special forces units. Matiullah and his men have been accused of human rights violations and the Dutch government barred its forces from working with the warlord before its troops were withdrawn in August. Matiullah holds no government position but is allied with the President, Hamid Karzai, and is considered the most powerful man in Oruzgan, where Australian forces are based.

Professor William Maley, of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University, said allegations against Matiullah were extensive and significant:
“There are degrees of shadiness in Afghanistan but his forces have been accused at different stages of having run extortionate road blocks in various parts of the province and there have even been suggestions that they have engaged in activities to simulate those of the Taliban so as to justify the continued role that they claim to play within the province.’’

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, Chief of the Australian Defence Force, defended the training, saying:
“These people are employed by the Department of Interior. They are police reservists. We’ve operated with them for a while, we’ve provided training for them and we’re pretty comfortable with these individuals because we know them all pretty well.”

Showing a surprising degree of naivety for a leader in his position, Houston then added:
“I have read some stuff in recent times that indicates that Matiullah is very generous in circumstances. For example, a family lost a father and Matiullah provided support to that family in the absence of the father, and I’m familiar with other similar acts that he has been behind before.’’

If Houston had read some history, he would understand that being very generous in circumstances is not always a good guide to a leaders overall character, actions and intentions.

In 1934, secret police chief Nikolai Yezhov was exhausted from his work which was getting rid of Josef Stalin’s opponents, both real and imagined and Stalin sent him to a health resort in Germany, cabling the Soviet Embassy in Berlin: “I ask you to pay close attention to Yezhov. Hes seriously ill and I cannot estimate the gravity of the situation. Give him help and cherish him with care He is a good man and a very precious worker.” 

Four years later, Yezhov was demoted and then executed because he was no longer useful.

Stalin seems to have had a liking and respect for General Vasilevsky, saying to him: “You command so many armies, yet you wouldn’t hurt a fly.” During the war Stalin sent money orders, in his own name, to Vasilevsky’s father (a village priest) whom Vasilevsky had rejected when he joined the Red Army. Stalin also suggested to Vasilevsky that he visit his parents and ask for their forgiveness. However, even when he later showed the money orders to Vasilevsky, Stalin recognised all too clearly the utilitarian spin-off from his act, saying: “It’ll be a long time before you pay off your debt to me.”