Two years after the Pakistani government banned it from publication, Shahaadat Daily newspaper, funded by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (Islamic Party of Afghanistan), is again available on the streets of Peshawar (Ariana Television, May 6). The daily has published articles that denounce the Afghan government and its major supporter, the United States. Shahaadat is the second newspaper, after Tanweer, which publishes articles that support Hekmatyar’s declaration of jihad against the Afghan government and Western troops in Afghanistan. The paper prints new statements from Hekmatyar and serves as a vehicle for the leader’s propaganda. Both Shahaadat and Tanweer are supported from Hezb-e-Islami’s stronghold, the Shamshatoo Refugee Camp. According to Waheed Mujda, an Afghan analyst and a former member of Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan, who lived in Shamshatoo during the 1990s, “Shahaadat restarted publication when Gulbuddin Hekmatyar ordered his followers to reinforce Islamic law and to strengthen Hezb-e-Islami activities inside Shamshatoo refugee camp” . Located some 25 kilometers southeast of Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, Shamshatoo remains a bastion of support for Hekmatyar.
Shamshatoo is a dusty and dry piece of land, surrounded by almost two-meter high clay walls. Inside the camp reside approximately 2,000 Afghan refugees. Almost all of them consider Gulbuddin Hekmatyar a hero. “Engineer Hekmatyar is a hero, his declaration of jihad against Americans shows that he is a servant of Islam,” said a resident of the camp and a financial officer for the camp’s administration, who went by the alias Haji Abdul Qahar . Speaking to The Jamestown Foundation inside the camp, Qahar said, “Whoever lives or has lived in the camp is a supporter of Engineer Hekmatyar and a member of Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan because this camp belongs to Hezb-e-Islami.” Qahar, who was planning to visit Saudi Arabia a few days after his interview, apparently for umra, said, “whoever once became a member of Hezb-e-Islami will never quit following Hekmatyar because only those who become Hezb-e-Islami members believe in Hekmatyar’s ideology with all their hearts.”
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar did not return to Shamshatoo refugee camp after the pro-Pakistani Taliban rejected negotiations with him and refused to give him a role in their regime in 1996, but his thoughts are still alive with the residents of Shamshatoo and his statements continue to have a strong effect on the Afghan refugees living in the camp . “I remember how Hekmatyar was speaking here in the mosque,” says Ezatullah Menhaj, a young, 29 year-old resident of Shamshatoo. “Hekmatyar’s words and his loyalty to Islam taught me to be a good Muslim. Wherever he is, I pray for his safety” . Menhaj attended a school funded by Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan in the 1990s. His comments demonstrate Hekmatyar’s ability to influence the residents of Shamshatoo. “In one of Hekmatyar Sahib’s statements [published] in Tanweer, I read that he said killing one American soldier is more rewarded by God than killing 10 Afghan soldiers,” Menhaj explained. Asked whether he agreed with that statement, Menhaj said, “Yes, I do, because they [Americans] have come all the way from their country to occupy our country and joining in jihad against these infidels is farz (obligation) for us.” In the August 10, 2006 issue of Tanweer, for example, Hekmatyar pledged to fight foreign troops in Afghanistan “till the last drop of blood moves in his body.”
The Shamshatoo refugee camp has its own leadership and its own conservative Islamic rules. Watching television, listening to music, dressing in Western-style clothes and shaving facial hair are prohibited by the camp leader, Tooran Amanullah Khogman, who is extremely loyal to Hekmatyar . Khogman is a former commander of Hezb-e-Islami, and he led party militants during the early 1990s in Charaasyab, south of Kabul . Nevertheless, there is a girls’ school in the camp, and even those who once allegedly poured acid on schoolgirls in Afghanistan now send their daughters to this school.
The History of the Camp
Shamshatoo is a Pashto word, meaning little male tortoise. “The place is called by the name of the animal because before the influence of refugees in the area, there were a lot of tortoises living there,” explained Waheed Mujda, who was one of the first residents of the refugee camp . The piece of land, once also called Woch Nahr, which means dried stream, was given to Hekmatyar and Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan by the Pakistani government in 1979 when the anti-communist party was gaining strength. A dried steam, which is the basis of the area’s name, still exists in the camp.
Hekmatyar, who fled Kabul in 1974 after spending almost a year in prison because of his membership in the Muslim Youths Movement, was given shelter inside Pakistan and was later recruited by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence as an anti-Afghan government element. He first started his political and military activities in a small building in the Faqir Abad district of Peshawar. Later, because of a huge influx of Afghan refugees into the frontier province of Peshawar, and also because of security threats, the Pakistani government decided to move the bases of Afghan jihadi groups to the outskirts of the city. As part of this plan, the Jalozai Refugee Camp was given to Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, an anti-communist leader who later formed the party Ittehad-e-Islami, and Shamshatoo Refugee Camp was given to Hekmatyar. Waheed Mujda explained that the first building built in Shamshatoo was a mosque: “Like any other Afghan jihadi party at that time, Hezb-e-Islami established its base in Shamshatoo by building a mosque there.”
Besides its military and political activities and despite its involvement in the war against the Russians in Afghanistan, Hezb-e-Islami granted social services—such as health care and educational facilities—to Afghan refugees in Shamshatoo. This social support network, which helped to make Hezb-e-Islami the biggest and the most influential party among jihadi groups in Afghanistan, aimed to attract more and more Afghans to the organization. Other activities, such as Hekmatyar’s speeches to refugees and his regular publications, which were mainly based in Shamshatoo, played a significant role in making him a “hero” among the camp’s residents.
Today, Hekmatyar’s whereabouts are unknown. Nevertheless, his statements, newspapers and audio cassettes are still available in Shamshatoo and the surrounding area. Despite having gone underground, Waheed Mujda claims that Hekmatyar recently ordered his men to restore humanitarian services in the camp, including the funding of schools for the children in Shamshatoo . According to individuals from the camp who declined to be identified, Hekmatyar maintains a leadership role in the camp through his representatives in Shamshatoo.
Just as he did during the jihad against the Russians and their appointed government in Kabul, Hekmatyar continues to exploit two key assets: providing humanitarian aid to the people and garnering positive publicity. For more than two decades, Shamshatoo has played a key role in this strategy. Furthermore, the camp demonstrates Hekmatyar’s entrenched support in not only Afghanistan, but also Pakistan. It is unclear whether Hekmatyar still recruits fighters from Shamshatoo, but his popularity in the camp and the region displays his capabilities. It is also unclear whether Hekmatyar still receives support from state clients. The fact that Shamshatoo’s finance officer, Haji Qahar, is able to make trips to Saudi Arabia, coupled with the nearly free reign of Hezb-e-Islami activists in Pakistani territory, raises further questions about the origins of Hekmatyar’s bases of support.
1. Author Interview, Waheed Mujda, May 8, 2007.
2. Author interview, Haji Abdul Qahar, Shamshatoo Refugee Camp, Pakistan, April 2007.
3. For a profile of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, see Terrorism Monitor, September 21, 2006.
4. Author interview, Ezatullah Menhaj, Shamshatoo Refugee Camp, Pakistan, April 2007.
5. Author interviews, Shamshatoo Refugee Camp, Pakistan, April 2007.
7. Author Interview, Waheed Mujda, May 8, 2007.