The return of Hekmatyar

The return of Hekmatyar

They knew that, starting 1997, he had lived in Tehran for seven years after apologising for having kicked the pro-Iran Shia militias out of the post-withdrawal mujahideen shura of Peshawar.

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In this Sept. 29, 2016, photo, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, signs a peace agreement with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious warlord on terrorist blacklists, at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Source: AP/PTI photo)

On September 21, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signed a peace deal with Pakhtun warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his Hezb-e-Islami militia. Before the deal, Hekmatyar apologised for bombing Kabul in 1993-94 after the Soviets left and the mujahideen indulged in intra-jihad war. He wanted to do this routine with former President Hamid Karzai too but in those days the Americans didn’t like the idea. They knew that, starting 1997, he had lived in Tehran for seven years after apologising for having kicked the pro-Iran Shia militias out of the post-withdrawal mujahideen shura of Peshawar. He had Pakistan’s ISI chief General Hamid Gul propping him as Afghanistan’s new prime minister; and Saudi handouts to the mujahideen had done the trick.

Pakistan inherited a split Afghan policy because of Hekmatyar’s vendetta with the Tajik warlord, Ahmad Shah Massoud. It meant Pakistan had to say goodbye to the non-Pakhtun tribes of north Afghanistan, creating space for India to step in and balance the war in Pakistan’s backyard. Prime Minister Hekmatyar was never allowed to sit on the Kabul throne dominated by Massoud’s militia that also symbolically bombed Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul. He sat, instead, on a hill outside Kabul and bombed the daylights out of the capital city, reducing it to moonscape. He had more ammunition than all the Pakistan-supported warlords put together. General Zia got big money from the US and Saudi Arabia, and his ISI chief, General Gul, gave most of it to his hero, Hekmatyar.

Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan by Michael Griffin (2001) revealed Pakistan’s narcotics nexus that allowed Hekmatyar to traffick heroin in Afghanistan: “Hekmatyar’s commanders established six laboratories in Koh-e-Sultan district of Balochistan in the mid-1980s to process opium from Helmand before smuggling it through the ports on the Mekran coast, or across the nearby Iranian border”.

The track from there led to many places inside Pakistan, and to General Zia himself. People close to him were caught red-handed smuggling heroin. In one case, a banker adopted by Zia as his son was caught with the help of Norway; and Zia’s wife tried to get the judge hearing the case in Pakistan to let him off the hook. Hekmatyar received half the CIA bribe through the ISI and must have shared some of it with important officers. One can only imagine the scale of the man’s wealth. He still holds the largest weapons cache in the region.


Hekmatyar failed in the long run but not for lack of support and big money. General Gul got Stinger missiles from America and gave them to Hekmatyar who sold them onwards till they ended up with arch-enemy Iran. Author Lawrence Wright once asked Gul “Why did you favour Hekmatyar?” He replied: “I went to each of the seven [warlords], and I said, ‘I know you are the strongest, but who is No. 2?’ They all said Hekmatyar.” This was clearly a fib from a powerful man whom Pakistan had allowed to decide the fate of numberless people. American journalist Peter Bergen estimated that as much as $600 million in US aid went to Hekmatyar, “who waged most of his attacks on fellow Afghans. Islamic extremism in the region was financed by American taxpayers, largely thanks to Gul”. Everyone who didn’t fight pocketed the jihad money; and men died fighting for the lesser reward in the Hereafter.

In 1991, when General Gul tried to take on post-withdrawal Afghan President Najibullah’s army in Jalalabad, the Afghan city bordering Pakistan, and thought Hekmatyar would deliver for all the money he had pocketed, the favoured warlord failed to show. No one was held responsible for the slaughter that Najibullah’s army then inflicted on the mujahideen.

Now that President Ghani has got him to come out of the cold, Hekmatyar will move with his men in three provinces of Afghanistan, according to the deal. He will call in his men scattered around in Afghanistan and Pakistan and be a force to reckon in time. President Ghani may think he has split the Taliban. But will Hekmatyar fight the Taliban?

Tariq Khosa, Inspector General Police (2007-09), Federal Secretary (2010), INTERPOL Executive Committee Delegate for Asia (2009-12), writes in Dawn that once when he unknowingly arrested Hekmatyar in Quetta carrying illicit weapons, he got an earful from General Zia. Observes Khosa: “Based on my four decades of law-enforcement experience I can assert, without fear of contradiction, that no non-state actor can exist without support from visible or invisible state elements and certain external players.”