In recent months the Taleban has ratcheted up its attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. According the outgoing U.S. director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, al-Qaida has also been active in the area as it forges new alliances with like-minded extremist groups from their home base in Pakistan. But, as VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports, another Afghan extremist leader who was once a recipient of U.S. aid has now joined the fray.
In the murky world of intelligence, the term "blowback" is often used to describe the unintended consequences of a covert operation.
During the 1980s, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar received the lion's share of U.S. covert assistance, funneled through Pakistani intelligence, to the resistance battling the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Now Hekmatyar has resurfaced as an ally of al-Qaida and his onetime rivals, the Taleban.
Larry Goodson, a professor of Middle East studies at the U.S. Army War College, says the re-emergence of Hekmatyar as a terrorist leader is a prime example of blowback.
"The whole strategy we used was sort of subcontracting the proxy war in the 1980s through the Pakistanis," he explained. "Now the Pakistanis, of course, insisted on it and we went along with it. You can argue that we didn't have any choice. But, in any event, one of the byproducts of that was the Taleban. Another byproduct, a much more direct byproduct, really, was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar."
Hekmatyar, an ethnic Pashtun, led the Hezb-i-Islami, one of the seven major parties that made up the Afghan resistance. They often quarreled among themselves.
Ahmad Rashid, a Pakistani journalist who has written extensively about Afghanistan over the years, says Hekmatyar developed a particular reputation for the ruthlessness of the attacks he led even from his own allies in the resistance.
"Everybody hated him, because he was so ambitious and wanted to kill everyone," he explained. "He's killed more Afghans than Soviet troops."
But former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, who served in Pakistan, says that is not quite fair. He says Hekmatyar, while ruthless, was nevertheless useful to the CIA, even when, Scheuer notes, some elements of the U.S. government objected to his methods.
"Generally speaking, the diplomats in our government -- the White House, the National Security Council, the State Department -- didn't have much use for Hekmatyar," he recalled. "They thought he was a bad, evil man. From the [Central Intelligence] Agency's perspective, he was doing the only thing we wanted done in Afghanistan, and that was kill Russians."
Larry Goodson, who has dealt with Hekmatyar during his days in Afghanistan, says even then Hekmatyar made no secret of his deep mistrust of the West in general and the United States in particular.
"He was always virulently, as long as I knew him anyway, virulently anti-Western," Mr. Goodson added. "He'd tell you to your face how bad the Americans were even as he was getting the lion's share of the American aid. So it's not really very surprising that he is so opposed, leaving aside the tribal issues and all the other issues, that he is so opposed to the American-supported government of Hamid Karzai."
When Kabul fell to the mujahedin guerillas in 1992, the guerrillas soon began fighting among themselves as they jockeyed for power, destroying large parts of the capital in the process. Hekmatyar became prime minister. But the bitter fighting paved the way for the advent of the Taleban, which was welcomed as a pacifying force by a war-weary populace. Hekmatyar fled to Iran.
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, Hekmatyar returned to Afghanistan. He recently claimed to have even helped Osama bin Laden escape when the al-Qaida leader was cornered by the ferocious U.S. bombing in Tora Bora in 2001.
Michael Scheuer says the United States should have dealt with Hekmatyar and other mujahedin leaders now fighting the United States when it had the chance in 2001.
"One of the mistakes in going into Afghanistan was we sort of neglected the last generation of the mujahedin, the people who fought the Soviets and defeated them," he noted. "When we went in, we should have either tried to co-opt them, or we should have killed them. And we did neither. And as a result, they have now resurfaced to become part of the jihad against the American-led coalition."
Hekmatyar is believed to be moving back and forth from the Bajaur tribal agency in Pakistan to Kunar province in Afghanstan. He now has common cause with his former competitors for power, the Taleban, to dislodge the Karzai government in Kabul. Many Western analysts believe that Pakistan would like to see a weaker, less pro-Western government in Kabul, and that Hekmatyar is back in favor with his former mentors of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.