Qazi Mohammad Amin Waqad is a former member of the Hizb-e-Islami leadership council, a party led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Waqad was one of three key anti-Soviet leaders of the mujahideen and served as Hekmatyar’s lieutenant. He is a graduate of the Islamic Law Faculty of Kabul University and is now a leading member of the National Front, an opposition group to Hamid Karzai’s administration. Waqad recently spoke with Jamestown analyst Waliullah Rahmani in Kabul.
Waliullah Rahmani: Following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, the Taliban apparently "disappeared." How would you interpret the Taliban’s post invasion movement: did they go to Pakistan or hide out in Afghanistan?
Qazi Mohammad Amin Waqad: No. The Taliban resisted at the outset of the U.S.-led attack, but could not hold out. The U.S. invasion targeted every point very well, similar to what was seen in Iraq. Many Taliban fighters were killed. It is only natural that if a person feels his life is threatened he will look for a way out, and the Taliban’s door to Pakistan was open, so they went there. The fault was of the Americans.
WR: Why do you place the blame on the Americans?
QW: The Americans pursued them [the Taliban]. If the Taliban were not pursued seriously, they would have been inactive and joined the madrassas. The coalition forces entered the districts, villages and even houses of the Afghan people in order to find the Taliban. Instead of pursuing the Taliban, the anti-terrorism coalition should have developed the country’s infrastructure and strengthened their influence in those regions most vulnerable. Every person, whose chance for life ends, would accept death. And that was the reality the Taliban faced.
WR: Some experts believe that the Taliban has become a strategic threat for Afghanistan. How do you assess the Taliban’s power?
QW: Please don’t speak politically. As I have experience among the anti-Soviet jihadi groups, there are deep differences among these parties’ feelings toward the Taliban. The jihadis [warlords] did not have the ability to recruit people. They had a limited number of followers. For example, Haji Qadir [the former warlord commander in eastern Afghanistan who was killed during the interim government in 2002] was only able to recruit a small number of soldiers. But the Taliban has the ability to recruit people daily and this was a well-known strength of the Taliban during the late 1990s. Every person who joined the Taliban was trained. It was the Taliban’s capacity to lead and command, however, which the mujahideen [warlords] lacked.
WR: What enables the Taliban to recruit so many soldiers?
QW: The Taliban enjoy a constant, trustworthy and decisive leadership. Their personnel and soldiers will not violate the leadership’s rules. Mullah Dadullah, the current Taliban commander, is a good example. The more people who join his group, the more he himself is strengthened. No one can act against his orders. If Mullah Dadullah orders his soldiers to kill that Hazara or that Uzbek or anyone else, they do it. A new recruit or soldier with a long-term commitment to the Taliban should act upon the commands of his leader. It is his duty. But the mujahideen [warlords] could not act in this way. For example, Hekmatyar for four years resisted in Chahar Asia district of Kabul, but could not recruit more than 40 youths from that district.
WR: But if you answer the remaining part of my question, about the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan that is believed to be mostly fomented by the Taliban, in which regions are the Taliban strong and how do you assess their power and threat?
QW: I think that they have become first a serious threat and then a strategic threat. Modern life in Afghanistan—computers, technology, modern wedding parties—is acceptable for Kabul citizens and city people, but the Afghan public is different; they are like the Taliban. If the Taliban has any chance, it is because they are a very attractive alternative for the Afghan people. They are several times more appealing to the Afghan people than the Afghan government. The government does not have a wide range of cultural activities. Its cultural affairs minister does not take any initiative. And government officials do not resemble the people, especially in the southern part of the country. In this part of Afghanistan, for example, the people must be confident of a high ranking government official’s religious background. If [the official] cannot act like an imam, he has to join the people in the mosque to pray. In this country, there has been an Islamic revolution. What most of the Afghan people see are long beards and [traditional Islamic] caps. Secondly, the people must be able to trust their leader’s management. A 25 year-old governor without a long beard who is unfamiliar with the people’s culture cannot rule, especially in the southern regions.
WR: You mean that the top government officials appointed in the southern region are not aware of Afghan society and culture?
QW: The top officials’ problem and mainly Karzai’s problem is distinction. Karzai does not know how to place suitable people in the right posts. He may care for his friendship with a person and assign him to a post. For example, the former Supreme Court chief, Fazl Hadi Shinwar, is an old person who is respectful, but not effective. He never worked a day as a manager in a government organization. His experience was that of a teacher and his work was to sign the class diary. For five years he was in the office of the Supreme Court, but during the vote of confidence in parliament he did not even receive 20 percent of the vote. In every media outlet he was criticized for his failure. But when he was dismissed from the Supreme Court, every kind of faculty was given to him. Now, Karzai has appointed him as a member of the regional security commission. Fazl Hadi Shinwari is a famous enemy of the Taliban and of Pakistan, and now he has been appointed to bring peace among the two countries and to reconcile with the Taliban. Karzai has appointed such people to the commission to solve the Waziristan and terrorism problems as well. Now Waziristan has changed. It is in flames. The people of Bajaur, Miramshah and others are changed into fire. This is due to Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. They pursued the Taliban and killed them until the situation changed. All of Waziristan, Miramshah and Bajaur, which is a very complicated place, are backing al-Qaeda. The people of these districts, men and women, are now mostly pro-al-Qaeda.
WR: If you agree to it, may we discuss another issue…as you were one of Hekmatyar’s friends and partners during the anti-Soviet jihad, how do you assess his relations with the Taliban? For example, is there any common point between the Taliban and Hekmatyar?
QW: Hekmatyar has benefited from the Taliban’s initiatives that they started in Afghanistan, like the suicide bombings. The mujahideen [warlords] could never perform suicide attacks. The tactic is an initiative of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The suicide bombings started with Hamas in Palestine and were exported to Iraq and then imported into Pakistan, in particular Quetta and Waziristan. Hekmatyar could not manage such a project of suicide bombings on his own. But he has benefited from it. Hekmatyar later announced that he had joined al-Qaeda and would operate under the umbrella of the group. With this announcement, many Arabs sent him money. In the Arab world, there are many NGOs, individuals and companies who have the motive to support such groups like Hekmatyar’s. Secondly, with his announcement, he has strengthened his moral force. Thirdly, by using the suicide bombings of the Taliban, he once again has promoted himself as an important figure in Afghanistan.
WR: There are discussions that Hekmatyar has influence in some areas of Pakistan. Do you agree?
QW: Hekmatyar has a strong presence in the Shamshatoo refugee camp located in Peshawar. It is a camp in Pakistan where around 15,000 to 20,000 people live. It is a secure place, therefore when the other refugee camps were dismissed the people mainly went to Shamshatoo. The camp has strict rules (much like the Taliban’s rules). One must always observe one’s beard and if a new family arrives there is an investigation into the kin’s past records to verify that the kin has few links to Kabul. A 70 year-old brother of mine, who lives outside the Shamshatoo camp area, was under suspicion that he was Qazi Amin’s brother. At school, the teachers threatened my nephew many times asking where I live and whether they are in touch with me. Hekmatyar’s personnel are very strict in this camp. Hekmatyar has as much influence in Shamshatoo as he has in many madrassas. He trains the youth who participate in the madrassas with radical ideas.
WR: You mean that Hekmatyar has a strong presence there presently?
QW: Yes, I am 100 percent sure. He has a publication by the name of Tanwir in the camp unbeknownst to the government. Anwarul Hagh Mujaheed, the son of Maulvi Khalis, also runs a publication by the name of Tora Bora in the camp. He writes under the alias of Jalal Abad, but publishes different kinds of propaganda and negative news about the Karzai administration, NATO and the United States. Hekmatyar has influence over the Wahdat newspaper and other publications. His weekly messages are read during Friday prayers as well as when there is an important or special event. For example, during Eid, his message is delivered to the camp, enhancing his strong presence.
WR: Except for Shamshatoo, how do you assess Hekmatyar’s influence in other regions of Pakistan?
QW: No one can speak against Hekmatyar in Peshawar. There the Majlis-e-Amal party has the power and all you see are long beards and white clothes. But the counsel and other Afghan officials are not like the people there. They do not have any kind of communication with the Afghans and the Afghan circles in Peshawar. When the officials appear at an event, they are completely different from the people. Their style—a tie and red or blue shirt and trousers—is not suitable for the people in Peshawar. So with this situation they cannot gain any kind of information.
WR: Considering Hekmatyar’s influence in Pakistan, what do you see as future threats?
QW: Now with the presence of NATO troops, the government might be able to secure power. But if these forces leave Afghanistan at a time when Ahmad Shah Masoud is not alive [to fight on their side], how can the Afghan government defeat Mullah Omar and Mullah Hekmatyar? The Afghan people are very dissatisfied with the present government. If foreign troops leave Afghanistan, all of Waziristan and the eight agencies of Pakistan—youths and mullahs—will enter Afghanistan in millions. We have reached a very critical point.
WR: Aside from Pakistan, how do you assess Hekmatyar’s influence in Afghanistan?
QW: Yes, he has some supporters inside Afghanistan as well because most Hizb-e-Islami elements are not in power and are outside the government.
WR: Hekmatyar has proposed to have a peace deal with the government, but with some conditions. Will Hekmatyar really join the government?
QW: No. It does not mean that Hekmatyar will join the peace process. He is very clever and intelligent, but has one problem and that is he cannot live in a society with people equally and share power. He wants to be the only powerful man and wants to control all power himself. Today, if the United States or NATO leaves, he will present another excuse. Until he can hold power like a dictator, he will not accept Karzai. This is his natural problem. He cannot live under the supremacy of others.
WR: So how can this problem be resolved?
QW: It is very difficult. The Afghan government has no alternative or long-term strategies to solve such problems.