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Profile: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar - 2003-02-21

Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar heads the radical Hezb-e-Islami faction, which became prominent in the U.S.-backed guerilla war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

In the civil war that followed the Soviets' departure in the early '90s,Mr. Hekmatyar, an ethnic Pashtun, fought with rival ethnic factions in a violent struggle for control of the capital, Kabul. His forces are blamed for much of the vicious shelling of the capital, along with killings and serious human rights violations that occurred at that time.

Sahar Saba, a senior member of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, says "people have not forgotten the crimes, the torture and imprisonment of many intellectuals by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. But at that time no one listened to hundreds of mothers who lost their sons because of this party, and women who became widowed or the entire destruction of the country."

Ms. Saba criticizes the international community, particularly the United States, for ignoring past rights abuses in Afghanistan by leaders like Mr. Hekmatyar. She charges that Washington has now designated the Afghan warlord a terrorist only because he has become a threat to America's own interests. "We believe that of course Gulbuddin Hekmatyar must be punished, must be tried as a war criminal, but it's not only him: there are many many other such leaders, his followers and his students even though they have separated themselves now from the Gulbuddin path and this party. But still for Afghan people they are violators of human rights and they must be punished," she says.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar served as Afghanistan's prime minister for two short months, just before the Taleban took power in 1996. Like other Afghan factions, he and his supporters were forced to flee Kabul when the Taleban's fundamentalist Islamic troops moved into town. He took refuge in Iran, where he lived a quiet life along with his family.

But Tehran, which supports the current Afghan government, expelled him and his organization last year. The move came after Mr. Hekmatyar condemned the presence of U.S.-led foreign military forces in his country and announced his support for his former enemies, the ousted Taleban.

The renegade warlord has since declared a holy war against the government of President Hamid Karzai and the coalition forces supporting him.

Mr. Hekmatyar's whereabouts are unknown, but he is thought to be operating somewhere along the porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afghan and U.S. military officials have accused him of taking part in a series of terrorist attacks by Taleban and al-Qaida operatives in recent months. In January, American forces launched an operation against the Taleban and supporters of Mr. Hekmatyar in the mountains of Southern Afghanistan, along the Pakistan border.

Hameed Gul is a former chief of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, which is widely known for its close links with Taleban officials. He says that rising anti-American sentiment in Pashtun-dominated areas in Afghanistan could be behind the cooperation between the Taleban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. "They have been enemies in the past but today they are getting together. I think this is the new message that Americans must realize. There has to be a paradigm shift before things go bad for them [the Americans] because they are getting engaged in too many places," he says. "Their desire that the Afghan affair should be short, swift and quick one is not there. It is neither successful nor it is short."

Some reports have suggested that Mr. Hekmatyar is using tribal areas on the Pakistani side of the border to target American forces. But Pakistan's interior minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat, dismisses such reports. "There is no question of anyone using Pakistani soil to launch any sort of attack against any other country. Let me be very categorical on that. As far as Hekmatyar is concerned we have no information that he is in Pakistan," he says.

U.S. officials will now require financial institutions to freeze all financial assets belonging to Mr. Hekmatyar. They say they will also ask the United Nations to include the man on its list of groups and individuals linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network.