Friday, July 27, 2012

Hekmatyar's never-ending Afghan war

How one former anti-Soviet ally of the US, who refused to meet Reagan, continues his war three decades later.
The year was 1985. In the heat of the CIA-backed Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union, a delegation of Afghan resistance leaders met with US President Ronald Reagan in the White House, where they were declared the "moral equivalent" to the founding fathers of the United States. But one prominent visiting commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, refused to see the US president, despite reportedly receiving a hefty share of the roughly $200m that the CIA funnelled annually to Afghan guerrillas for defeating the invading Red Army. Hekmatyar's war never ended, as today, more than three decades later, he fights the US-led coalition in Afghanistan, probably with some of the same weapons that US tax dollars paid for. To many, he epitomises the short-sighted alliances of the US, siding with unreliable figures who, even during their cooperation, openly expressed their dislike for the US world view. "Known for his Russian killing," as one analyst put it, Hekmatyar instead went on a speaking tour, addressing crowds - of mostly Afghan refugees - in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. "The invite was from the United Nations, not from Reagan," Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal, a former aide to Hekmatyar who accompanied him on the trip, told Al Jazeera. Arghandiwal is now President Hamid Karzai's minister of economy. "... Hekmatyar was a canny politician who would do whatever ... to ensure continuing US government's support for his movement. He was using the US. " - Richard Bulliet Richard Bulliet, a professor of history at Columbia University, attended one of Hekmatyar's talks in New York, and said the commander was accompanied by the Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, a senior advisor on Afghanistan to Reagan's State Department. Khalilzad went on to become the Bush administration's ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and most recently the United Nations. He is considered one of the main architects of the post 9/11 Afghan political system. Bulliet says the trip was under the close watch of Khalilzad, who had instructed Hekmatayr to avoid responding to any question about religion and politics. "I asked Zal [as Khalilzad is casually known] whether there wasn't a contradiction between US government's disapproval of a militant Islamic regime in Iran and its active support for Mr Hekmatyar, who seemed to me much more militant than the leading Iranians," Bulliet told Al Jazeera. "Zal said something to the effect that we would cross that bridge when we came to it. And that bridge, in my personal view, was 9/11." Khalilzad did not respond to Al Jazeera's request for comment. "My overall impression of the trip was that Hekmatyar was a canny politician who would do whatever Zal dictated to ensure continuing US government's support for his movement. He was using the US," says. Unpleasant allies Anti-US sentiment was not unique to Hekmatyar, one analyst says. The leadership of the Soviet-fighting Mujahideen, who mostly operated in exile out of Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan, was a mixed bunch, consisting of academics emerging from pan-Islamist Muslim Brotherhood circles in Kabul University. Other commanders included religious and tribal leaders with localised ambitions. For most of them, the alliance with the US was one borne out of necessity, against a more imminent enemy that was knocking at their gate - or had already knocked down the gate. "In those days, anti-American feelings were definitely in fashion in Pakistan. There was Abdullah Azam, Osama bin Laden and others. There were anti-US publications being circulated" says Wahid Muzhda, now a Kabul-based analyst who had fought against the Soviets and interacted with the leaders in Peshawar. "He was an unpleasant character and ridiculous at times " - State department official But others believe the resistance leaders were entirely focused on the Soviet Union, and that anti-US feelings, even for bin Laden, did not emerge until the 1991 Gulf War. Michael Malinowski, a 1980s US state department official in Pakistan tasked with keeping liaison with the jihadi leaders, says the degree of anti-US sentiment varied among the leaders. "I would not say the sentiment was pervasive, but it was certainly there. And it was epitomised by Hekmatyar and [Abdul Rab Rasul] Sayyaf. Some of the others were quite grateful for the aid. "Hekmatyar did not like what the US represented, whether in terms of culture or politics." Malinowski, between 1987 and 1989, met about ten times with Hekmatyar. The rest of the jihadi leaders, he says, had some "redeeming qualities," but Hekmatyar was solely driven by his ambition. "He was an unpleasant character and ridiculous at times. He would say things like ‘my party has never received any aid from the US.' You almost wanted to laugh at his face. It was insulting for somebody like me," added Malinowski. The good Haqqani Many of the US allies from the time of jihad have subsequently turned against the US - bin Laden being the most prominent. Another of the visiting leaders to Washington that year, the late Mawlawi Yunus Khalis, is considered a spiritual father to the Taliban. His claim to fame was inviting Reagan to convert to Islam from the podium of the White House. But one of the most feared US enemies today, Jalaluddin Haqanni of the so-called Haqqani Network, was actually a very cooperative ally in the 1980s. When a girl's school for Afghan refugees was closed down in Peshawar and the guard was shot dead, most likely by elements close to Hekmatyar, Malinowski says, it was Haqqani who helped them reopen it. "We needed one of the leaders to give a speech, and ensure the families that nothing [would] happen to the girls. The school did not even belong to his party, but Haqqani agreed to come and give the speech. He was in no way the guy that he is now." Opinion is divided as to why Hekmatyar, despite giving clear red signals, remained a major US ally. "Americans said they supported Hekmatyar because he was a good killer of Russians. They didn't care who was cursing the US, what was more important to them was who killed more Russians," Muzhda says. The Pakistani intelligence agency, the powerful ISI, served as an intermediary for CIA's covert campaign in Afghanistan. All the covert aid, which was matched dollar to dollar by the Saudis, went through the ISI. "The ISI funnelled most of the cash to Hekmatyar, who was their favourite," Malinowski says, adding that the Pakistani agency was grooming Hekmatyar to lead post-Soviet Afghanistan. "Every time I met others, they would always complain about Hekmatyar getting most of the aid."

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