Trojan Horse or Genuine Schism? The Hezb-e-Islami Split

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 11

The Islamist campaign in Afghanistan may be undercut by the announcement of a split in the leadership of the radical Hezb-e-Islami party. Ten members of the group’s senior leadership met in May with Afghanistan’s interim President Hamid Karzai in Kabul and publicly announced their rejection of Hezb-e-Islami’s alliance with al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Since 2001, Hezb-e-Islami’s leader, former Afghan prime minister and long-time political operative Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, had aligned the group with remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaeda against the current Afghan government. Their aim has been to limit Kabul’s legitimacy and to block reconstruction in the south and east.

While only a limited success for Karzai’s administration, if this split is sustained, it could deal a serious blow to terrorists’ capabilities in Afghanistan, in large part because of Hezb-e-Islami’s connections to religious radical parties in Pakistan’s North West Frontier province. If the example of the Hezb-e-Islami leadership – all ethnic Pushtuns – is taken as a model by their ethnic compatriots on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line, it may limit the backing for terrorism, something which has been imbedded in the “Taliban culture” of Pushtu-speaking Pakistan. However, there is concern that while this action may result in some elements of the party returning to Afghan politics, the “hard men” will remain committed to using the Kalashnikov.

“Decision Making Council” in Kabul

The breakaway Hezb-e-Islami leadership was introduced in Kabul as the Hezb-e-Islami “Decision Making Council.” Mohammed Khalid Faruqi, a guerrilla commander in southern Afghanistan during the 1980s, led the group, which consisted of eleven individuals, many of whom had also been active in the party since the war against the Soviets. They issued a strong denunciation of terrorism, claiming to have split from Hekmatyar and to have the support of some 90 percent of Hezb-e-Islami membership. [1]

Yet, many of the Decision Making Council appeared to be third-tier leadership figures, connected primarily to Nangarhar province, where Kabul’s influence is stronger than in the southern and eastern borderlands. It did not include men known to be close to Hekmatyar. Some members of the new body, while splitting with Hekmatyar, declined to go to Kabul; these reportedly included Homayun Jarir and Abdul Sardar Farid, long-time Hezb-e-Islami members believed to be residing in Pakistan. [2] Otherwise, however, the action of the Decision Making Council was strongly condemned by Pakistan-based Hezb-e-Islami figures. [3] Even Hekmatyar’s old rival, Younis Khales, long reckoned to be past active politics, resurfaced to urge continued armed violence in Afghanistan. [4]

Hekmatyar’s Response

Prior to the delegation’s visit, Hekmatyar faxed statements decrying the action and urging continued warfare, though he has not appeared in public to denounce the Council. [5] Rather, he has supplied statements to the Pakistani press, repeating his previous condemnations of U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. [6]

Hekmatyar’s two deputies, Qotboddin Helal and Dr. Ghayrat Bahir, remain in Pakistan, but there has been speculation that they too may split from Hekmatyar and take part in Afghan politics. [7] No other second-tier leadership figures have turned against Hekmatyar. Qazi Waqar Amin and Wahidullah Sahawan, remain, like Hekmatyar, under cover. Kashmir Khan, Haji Eshanollah, Abdul Salam Hashemi, Engineer Obaidollah, and Munshi Abdul Majid form the core of the “hard men,” committed to violence in Afghanistan and elsewhere even before the emergence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda; there appears to be no indication that they have changed. [8] However, concerns have been raised regarding possible cooperation between overt and covert members to help the party regain political power. [9]

The Political Context

The Decision Making Council’s move underlines the slow but steady nature of Kabul’s successes in bringing the Taliban’s core constituency, Pushtun mullahs of the south and east, especially non-Syeds, into the government’s camp. [10] It could well be significant that several of the breakaway leaders were from this background.

The process has been aided by a number of recent setbacks for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar’s aide Abdul Hadi was arrested in an ISAF raid on an arms cache in a Hezb-e-Islami safe house in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of Kabul on April 8. The previous week U.S. troops had arrested another Hezb-e-Islami leader, Amanullah Koghman, in Wardak province. [11] And on April 19, a Hezb-e-Islami arms cache was captured in the Ghazi Stadium area of Kabul. [12] More recently, U.S. forces reportedly captured Hazrat Mir, a Hekmatyar commander in Laghman province. [13]

The motivation for the break-away leadership apparently included a desire to take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Hekmatyar has remained strong in several areas, including parts of Logar province and the city of Konduz, and it is conceivable that the party could have a strong electoral position there. In the televised May 2 press conference, the Decision Making Council claimed 65 of the participants in the initial Loya Jirga had been Hezb-e-Islami members. There have even been rumors that Hekmatyar himself was going to switch sides and take part in the election. [14]

Return From the Margins?

In the near-term, the split in the Hezb-e-Islami leadership is of only limited impact because of the party’s marginalized position in the Taliban-al-Qaeda coalition. Hezb-e-Islami had, in the 1990s, clashed with both forces, but remained the chosen instrument of the Pakistani security services in Afghanistan until 1994-96, when it was supplanted by the Taliban. This shift signaled the military defeat of Hezb-e-Islami forces, which largely joined the Taliban after the collapse of Hezb’s stronghold in Logar in 1996. Hekmatyar’s supporters also waged a little-known but brutal local conflict against an al-Qaeda-supported Wahhabi “kingdom” in the Kunar valley in the 1990s. The conflict precipitated Hekmatyar’s exile to Iran during the years of Taliban-al-Qaeda ascendancy in Afghanistan.

An Islamist student leader in the 1970s, Hekmatyar was trained by Pakistan in guerrilla warfare. He rose to prominence in 1978-79, at a time when Maulavi Younis Khales split from Hezb-e-Islami, taking much of the party’s support in Nangarhar province and among the non-Syed mullahs in the south and east. Introduced to Leninist ideas during his years at Kabul University, he made the use of vanguard party tactics to advance Hezb-e-Islami’s radical agenda his explicit goal. Though the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) ensured that he was unable to consolidate absolute power within the party between 1979-87 (wanting Hekmatyar to know he was not irreplaceable) Pakistan’s national security policy required an ethnic Pushtun Islamist as head of state in Kabul. Hekmatyar, favored by the ISI above six other Peshawar-based Afghan resistance leaders, emerged as the undisputed head of Hezb-e-Islami after 1987 and by 1989 was allowed to overcome his rivals.

In 1992-96, Hezb-e-Islami was a major combatant in Afghanistan’s civil wars – even while Hekmatyar was Afghanistan’s nominal prime minister. Functioning as a Pakistani proxy, Hezb-e-Islami fought the forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud and the Northern Alliance. Between 1994-96, however, the Taliban won over its ethnic Pushtun base and Pakistani supporters. Hekmatyar was, and is, once of the most politically skilled Afghans of his generation. But the withdrawal of the Pakistani support that propelled him to prominence between 1978-96 left him largely sidelined.

He attempted to redress this marginalization after the battle of Kabul in 2001 by making common cause with his former enemies. He has sought support among Pushtuns, (especially de-tribalized and northern individuals), modernizing radical Islamist and Pakistani security services veterans of the 1980s and 90s. All have, so far, been unable to restore either Hekmatyar or Hezb-e-Islami to a central role in Afghanistan’s armed opposition. Whether the party will re-enter legitimate Afghan politics remains to be seen. However, there is a real concern that the recent defections by members of the Decision Making Council simply constitute a “Trojan horse,” ultimately aimed at bringing either the party or its leader to power in Kabul.


1. Kabul Weekly, May 5, 2004.

2. Kabul Television broadcast, May 2, 2004.

3. Afghan Islamic Press release, May 6, 2004.

4. Kabul Times, May 2, 2004.

5. Voice of the Islamic Republic (Tehran) broadcast, April 12, 2004.

6. Islam (Karachi), May 23, 2004.

7. Kabul Weekly, May 5, 2004.

8. Mojahed (Kabul), May 6, 2004.

9. Panjara (Kabul) broadcast, May 6, 2004.

10. Syeds are those who claim direct descent from the Prophet Mohammed.

11. Wahdat (Peshawar), April 9, 2004.

12. Hindukush news agency report, April 19, 2004.

13. Voice of the Islamic Republic (Tehran) broadcast, May 7, 2004.

14. Kabul Weekly, April 7, 2004.