Hekmatyar Loyalists on the Warpath

Supporters of the Afghan warlord say they are ready to launch a holy war against the Americans.

Hekmatyar Loyalists on the Warpath

Supporters of the Afghan warlord say they are ready to launch a holy war against the Americans.

Monday, 21 February, 2005

In the sprawling Shamshatoo refugee camp on the outskirts of the Pakistani city of Peshawar, the supporters of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar remember when US aid flowed to the militant Islamic leader to fuel his 1980s battle with the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan.

Now, despite the distrust many Afghans have felt since Hekmatyar helped reduce the Afghan capital to rubble during a 1992-96 power- struggle between the mujahedin factions, his backers are furious with the US, as they believe it wants him dead.

"Hekmatyar is a mujahed (holy warrior) and an Afghan Muslim - he has the right to live in his homeland. He belongs to neither the

Taleban nor al-Qaeda. That is why I firmly condemn any attempt by the US to attack him," said Moulawi Talwar, an official in the main office of Hekmatyar's political party, the Hizb-i-Islami.

Earlier this month, US forces attempted to kill the warlord with a Hellfire missile, mounted on an unmanned Predator drone, Washington defence sources told a number of western news agencies. But they said the rocket attack, in the Sheyal district of Konar province near the Pakistan border, missed its target. The Pakistani press reported that 30 people had been wounded in the May 6 raid.

The US Central Intelligence Agency refused to comment on the reports, but a Bush administration official is said to have expressed "serious concerns" over Hekmatyar and his possible links with renegade Taleban and al-Qaeda militants and threats against American troops

"If Hekmatyar announced a jihad (holy war) against the US we are ready to say yes to his commands," said Talwar. "Some special activities are secretly being prepared by the party and once it is declared we are ready to help and support our leader."

The warlord was one of the main recipients of US aid during the American-funded war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The religious zeal of his party was then an asset.

"Hekmatyar is our elder brother and a great mujahed. He is more Islamic than the other leaders so we must respect him and cannot tolerate any conspiracy against him," said Said Mohammed Zarif, an ex-student of the Islamic University living in Shamshatoo, near the Afghan border, Hekmatyar's base during war against the Soviets.

The mujahedin leader became a US enemy when he sided with the Taleban over their refusal to hand over Bin Laden to face charges of orchestrating the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

"I have decided to leave for Afghanistan to join hands with the Taleban

against American aggression," he told al-Jazeera television early this year. Iran, which had been hosting him, asked him to leave for his condemnation of Kabul's interim administration. The warlord's present whereabouts are unknown, although some have suggested that he's holed up in south-east Afghanistan.

Hekmatyar himself remains a deeply controversial figure among Afghans - even in Peshawar where he based his struggle in the Eighties - largely because of his role in the brutal war over Kabul, following the collapse of the Soviet-installed government of Najibullah in 1992.

Burhanuddin Rabbani, the president of the post-Najibullah, Northern Alliance-dominated government, refused to share power with Hekmatyar. In retaliation, the warlord's followers remorselessly pounded Kabul with rocket fire that reduced much of the city to rubble, killing tens of thousands of residents.

Some Afghans sympathised with the mujahedin leader, but most were highly critical of him for devastating the Afghan capital. Sayed Rasool, an exile living in the Nawtia district of Peshawar, said he should die for his role in killing thousands of his countrymen.

Mustafa Kamal, from the Sadar district of Peshawar, said Hekmatyar had little support left outside of his old stronghold, "He is being followed only by those who are still living in Shamshatoo."

Even those Afghans with sympathies for the warlord are anxious that he might seek to re-ignite the civil war.

"Hekmatyar helped kick the Russian troops out of Afghanistan, but times have changed," said Najmuddin, a refugee living in Tahkal district of Peshawar. "We must not follow him anymore; we must concentrate on the reconstruction of our country."

Fazal Malik has been attending IWPR journalism course in Peshawar.

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