News / Asia

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar: Ruthless Warlord, New Karzai Ally or Both?

Sean Maroney

As Afghan President Hamid Karzai reaches out to militants before next month's peace council, some human-rights activists say they are concerned with the types of individuals who may enter the government.  Earlier this week, President Karzai met with a high-level delegation from the Hezb-i-Islami insurgent group.  The leader of that faction is a well-known polarizing figure.  

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar first rose to prominence in Afghanistan during the 1970s when he founded Hezb-i-Islami, which means "The Islamic Party."

Despite its origins in university student groups, Hekmatyar's organization soon became known as one of the major Afghan guerrilla factions, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

During the next decade, the United States spent billions of dollars in covert assistance to fight the Soviet forces.  U.S. officials funneled the money through Pakistan's spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, and the lion's share went to Hekmatyar.

The ISI director general in the 1980s, Hamid Gul, says he knows Hekmatyar well.  He tells VOA the ethnic-Pashtun mujahideen leader, who originally studied in the university to become an engineer, was an important asset for both the United States and Pakistan at the time.

But Gul says Hekmatyar was always an outspoken critic of the United States.  He says it is Hekmatyar's nature that is probably urging him now to negotiate with the current Afghan government for a share in the post-U.S.-invasion Afghanistan.

"He is very ambitious, and that is probably his undoing," said Hamid Gul. "I mean, he is politically very, very ambitious; there is no doubt about it.  He has a charismatic personality, and his Hezb-i-Islami is a very well-organized force, and I think he could still draw a lot of loyalists."

But the director of the Kabul-based Afghan Rights Monitor, Ajmal Samadi, has a less flattering recollection of the militant leader.  After the Soviets withdrew and the U.S. support for Afghan guerillas dried up, Hekmatyar's fighters battled with other rebel factions in Kabul for control of the country.

Samadi describes how Hekmatyar solidified a reputation as a ruthless warlord.

"Forces under his command were accused of very, very appalling crimes, for instance: the rape of women, the use of child soldiers, sexual exploitation of children, shelling civilian-populated areas, blockading the city and denying people access to essential services," said Ajmal Samadi.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar briefly served as Afghanistan's prime minister in the 1990s.  But when his rival Mullah Mohammad Omar seized control of the government in 1996 with his Taliban fighters, Hekmatyar fled to Iran.

He apparently left that country sometime after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.  Soon after, Hekmatyar announced his support for his former rivals, the Taliban, and his opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

The United States targeted Hekmatyar with a drone missile strike in 2002, but missed.  U.S. officials labeled the Hezb-i-Islami leader a terrorist the following year, saying he participated in and supported terrorist acts committed by al-Qaida and the Taliban.

In recent years, analysts believe Hekmatyar has been living in Pakistan while directing his fighters in operations against coalition and Afghan troops in eastern and northern Afghanistan.

Speaking from Kabul, the director of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies, Haroun Mir, says Afghan President Hamid Karzai's desire to reconcile with the Taliban is most likely making Hekmatyar consider shifting his alliances, as he has done many times in the past.

"Hekmatyar is keen to reach out to Kabul and find a negotiation because he knows that he could not enjoy the kind of support the Taliban receive from Pakistan and al-Qaida," said Haroun Mir.

He points to the fact that earlier this month, a firefight erupted between some of Hekmatyar's fighters and the Afghan Taliban, killing about 50 people.  It is unclear what caused the fight, but Mir says if the Taliban and Afghan government reach an agreement, Hekmatyar might be sidelined.

Daoud Sultanzoy is a member of the Afghan Parliament.  He tells VOA that Hekmatyar appears to have more of a willingness to negotiate than the Taliban.

"The Taliban are saying one of the conditions is the removal of foreign troops and they will not accept the constitution of Afghanistan, but Mr. Hekmatyar or at least his aides are saying that they are prepared to sit down and talk about these things," said Daoud Sultanzoy.

U.S. officials cautiously welcomed talks this week between President Karzai and the Hezb-i-Islami delegation.  But they stressed that any groups involved in peace talks must renounce violence and support for the insurgency, live in accordance with the Afghan constitution and sever any ties with al-Qaida and other terrorist networks.

It is unclear whether Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is prepared to do all those things, but at the very least, analysts say he is willing to talk.  At the same time, there is a fear that his violent reputation against Afghan civilians could undermine the Karzai administration.  

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid