Afghanistan: Choosing Among The Warlords

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 5

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar , the Afghan mujahideen warlord that the West most likes to hate, may finally have met his Waterloo – not on the field of battle but in a possible factional rebellion by followers of his own Hisb-e-Islami or Islamic Party.

In a startling bit of news (Reuters, The New York Times from Kabul, May 2), a ten-man delegation led by the party’s head in Paktika province, Khaled Farooqi, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul and pledged participation in the political process leading up to the September elections.

This development is being seen as “a major victory” for Karzai, who has been trying to “wean away” moderate members of the Taliban and its supporters such as Hekmatyar ‘s Islamic party.

That this support for Karzai’s Kabul government comes from Paktika province is even more significant because Paktika, together with the adjoining provinces of Paktia and Khost, is smack on the border with Pakistan’s North and South Waziristan tribal agencies – a region considered to be the frontline of the Taliban insurgency and a sanctuary for the remnants of Al-Qaeda, including Osama Bin Laden and his top lieutenants.

The delegation, however, said that although they represented the party’s “executive council,” they had no contact with Hekmatyar . Therefore, on the flip side, Hekmatyar may still be regarded as the legitimate leader among the more hardcore militants in the party.

Whatever this development signifies in the broader canvas of Karzai’s struggle (with U.S. support) to impose central Kabul’s authority in the provinces ruled by warlords (see EDM, May 5), the fact remains that there are other and more significant warlords to win over than Gulbuddin Hekmatyar .

Kathy Gannon, the much respected head of the Associated Press bureau in the region, wrote in the May/June Foreign Affairs quarterly that most of the killings during the bitter 1992-96 rule of Kabul by the mujahideen were blamed on Hekmatyar , who fled to Iran when the Taliban captured Kabul in October 1996. Later, in 2002 (and after being expelled by Iran), he was resurrected as a supporter of the defeated Taliban in unknown parts of Afghanistan (or possibly across the border in Pakistan).

But according to Gannon, most of the Afghans who lived through that period in Kabul in fact blamed all mujahideen factions, including that of Ahmad Shah Masood and Qassim Fahim, his deputy, who at that time manned the defense ministry of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the leader of the Jama’at Islami or Islamic Society party (all of them Tajiks). It was this party that overthrew the Soviet-supported Najibullah regime with the help of another warlord, General Rashid Dostum. An Uzbek from Mazar-i-Sharif, Dostum had been part and parcel of the Afghan army supporting the Soviets. Also, Gannon recalled that it was another Pashtun warlord, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, funded heavily by Saudi Arabia and with Arab fighters in his ranks, who actually said that Kabul should be razed to the ground since everyone there must be a communist. All these warlords (except for Masood, who was assassinated in September 2001) are part of the present Kabul government of Karzai (a Pashtun) or are allied with it.

Therefore, in looking at the problem in its totality – that is, the need to whittle down the power of the warlords in order to extend the writ of Karzai’s Kabul government (with the blessing of the United States) to the provinces – it would seem that the task must begin nearer to home, however unpleasant that might be. The issue of whether Pashtuns will emerge once again to dominate the non-Pashtun groups remains an open question because of new realities on the ground that have emerged since the U.S. overthrow of the largely Pashtun Taliban – accomplished with the help of the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance – following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

This dilemma is illustrated by Karzai’s recent visit to his hometown of Kandahar – the former spiritual capital of the Taliban and the city in which he survived an assassination attempt nearly two yeas ago. In his speech there on April 25, Karzai welcomed rank-and-file members of the Taliban back into society, saying that his government’s problem lay mainly with some 150 members of the former Taliban leadership (AP from Kandahar, April 25). On the other hand, some three weeks ago, Karzai announced the creation of two new provinces for non-Pashtuns – Panjshir for the Tajiks and Daikundi for the Hazaras (Voice of America language services).