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Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Born 1947
Imam Saheb, Kunduz province, Afghanistan
Years of service 1975 to present
Commands held Hezb-i Islami Gulbuddin
Battles/wars Soviet war in Afghanistan
Afghan Civil War
Nagorno-Karabakh War
War in Afghanistan (2001–present)

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (Pashto: ګلبدین حکمتیار; Persian: گلبدین حکمتیار‎; born 1947) is the founder and active leader of the Hezb-e Islami political party, and a designated "global terrorist" by the United States.[1] After escaping from prison in Afghanistan in 1973, he moved to Pakistan and became involved with Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency to carry out terrorist attacks inside Afghanistan. When the Soviet war in Afghanistan began in 1979, the CIA began funding his rapidly growing Hezb-e Islami mujahideen organization through the ISI.

Following the stepping down of Afghan President Najibullah in 1992, Hekmatyar and other warlords began a civil war in Afghanistan, which led to the deaths of around 50,000 civilians in Kabul alone. In the meantime, Hekmatyar was promoted to becoming Prime Minister of Afghanistan from 1993 to 1994 and again briefly in 1996. This was followed by the Taliban takeover of Kabul and Hekmatyar's escape to Iran's capital for safety.

One of the most controversial of the mujahideen commanders, he has been accused of spending "more time fighting other Mujahideen than killing Soviets."[2] Except his followers, he is a much hated figure among ordinary Afghans due to his involement in the ruthless killings of many civilians. He is even on the target list of the Taliban from southern Afghanistan. It is believed that he communicates with the world throught Zabiullah Mujahid.

Early life

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was born in 1947 in Imam Sahib District of the Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan, a member of the Kharoti tribe of the Ghilzai Pashtun.[1] His father, Ghulam Qader, who migrated to Kunduz, is originally from the central Ghazni province.[3]

Afghan businessman and Kharoti tribal leader Gholam Serwar Nasher deemed Hekmatyar to be a bright young man and sent him to the Mahtab Qala military academy in 1968, but he was expelled due to his political views two years later.[3][4] From 1970 to 1972, Hekmatyar attented Kabul University's engineering department. Though he was unable to complete his degree, his followers therefore address him as "Engineer Hekmatyar".[3][4][5]

Hekmatyar initially was a pro-Soviet militant of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) but with time also became influenced by extremist interpretations of Islam. In 1972, he was imprisoned for ordering the killing of Saydal Sukhandan, a pro-China Maoist student.[3][6] While attending Kabul University Hekmatyar's supporters had also allegedly become known for throwing acids into the faces of women not wearing the all covering veil on campus.[7] He was released after two years when the monarchy of Zahir Shah was overthrown and Daoud Khan with the help of the communist PDPA seized power in 1973.

After being released, Hekmatyar joined the Sazman-i Jawanan-i Musulman ("Organization of Muslim Youth")[3] which was gaining influence because of its opposition to the Soviet influence in Afghanistan increasing through the PDPA elements in Daoud's government.[8] Hekmatyar's radicalism put him in confrontation with elements in the Muslim Youth surrounding Ahmad Shah Massoud, also an engineering student at Kabul University. In 1975, trying to murder a rival for the second time in three years, Hekmatyar with Pakistani help tried to assassinate Massoud, then 22 years old, but failed.[9] In 1975, the "Islamic Society" split between supporters of Massoud and Burhanuddin Rabbani, who led the Jamiat-e Islami, and elements surrounding Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who then founded the Hezb-i Islami. Akbarzadeh and Yasmeen describe Hekmatyar's approach as "radical" and antagonistic as opposed to an "inclusive" and "moderate" strategy by Rabbani.[10]

Exile in Pakistan

The arrival of Afghan opposition militants in Peshawar coincided with a period of diplomatic tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan, due to Daoud's revival of the Pashtunistan, disputed territory, issue. Under the secret policy of USA, Britain and the patronage of Pakistani General Naseerullah Babar, then governor of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and with the blessing of President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, camps were set up to train Hekmatyar and other anti-Daoud Islamists.[11]

The Islamist movement had two main tendencies: the Jamiat-e islami ("Islamic society") led by Burhanuddin Rabbani, that advocated a gradualist strategy to gain power, through infiltration of society and the state apparatus. Rabbani advocated for the "building of a widely based movement that would create popular support".[12] The other movement, called Hezb-i Islami ("Islamic Party"), was led by Hekmatyar, who favored a radical approach in the form of violent armed conflict. Pakistani support largely went to Hekmatyar's group, who, in October 1975, undertook to instigate an uprising against the government. Without popular support, the rebellion ended in complete failure, and hundreds of militants were arrested.[13]

Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin was formed as an elitist avant-garde based on a strictly disciplined Islamist ideology within a homogeneous organization that Olivier Roy described as "Leninist", and employed the rhetoric of the Iranian Revolution.[14] It had its operational base in the Nasir Bagh, Worsak and Shamshatoo refugee camps in Pakistan. In these camps, Hezb-i Islami formed a social and political network and operated everything from schools to prisons, with the support of the Pakistani government and their Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).[15][16]

From 1976-1977 Afghan President Daoud made overtures to Pakistan which led to reconciliation with Pakistani leader Bhutto.[12] Bhutto's support to Hekmatyar, however, continued and when Bhutto was removed from power in Pakistan by Zia-ul-Haq in 1977, Zia continued supporting Hekmatyar.[17]

Role in the anti-Soviet resistance

During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Hekmatyar received large amounts of aid from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States.[18][19] According to the ISI, their decision to allocate the highest percentage of covert aid to Hekmatyar was based on his record as an effective anti-Soviet military commander in Afghanistan.[20] Others describe his position as the result of having "almost no grassroots support and no military base inside Afghanistan", and thus being the much more "dependent on Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq's protection and financial largesse" than other mujahideen factions.[21]

Hekmatyar has been harshly criticized for his behavior during the Soviet and civil war, and was criticized for his groups "xenophobic" tendencies.[22] At various times, he has both fought against and allied himself with almost every other group in Afghanistan. He ordered frequent attacks on other rival factions to weaken them in order to improve his position in the post-Soviet power vacuum. An example of his tendency for internecine rivalry was his arranging the arrest of Ahmed Shah Massoud in Pakistan in 1976 on spying charges.[23] Another example is when Massoud and Hekmatyar agreed to stage a takeover operation in the Panjshir valley - Hekmatyar at the last minute refused to engage his part of the offensive, leaving Massoud open and vulnerable. Massoud's forces barely escaped with their lives.[24]

The Paris based group Médecins Sans Frontières reported that Hekmatyar's guerrillas hijacked a 96 horse caravan bringing aid into northern Afghanistan in 1987, stealing a year's supply of medicine and cash that was to be distributed to villagers to buy food with. French relief officials also asserted that Thierry Niquet, an aid coordinator bringing cash to Afghan villagers, was killed by one of Hekmatyar's commanders in 1986. It is thought that two American journalists traveling with Hekmatyar in 1987, Lee Shapiro and Jim Lindalos, were killed not by the Soviets, as Hekmatyar's men claimed, but during a firefight initiated by Hekmatyar's forces against another mujahideen group. In addition, there were frequent reports throughout the war of Hekmatyar's commanders negotiating and dealing with pro-Communist local militias in northern Afghanistan.[25][26]

In 1987, member's of Hekmatyar's faction murdered British cameraman Andy Skrzypkowiak, who was carrying footage of Massoud's successes to the West. Despite protests from British representatives, Hekmatyar didn't punish the culprits, and instead rewarded them with gifts.[27]

Another example of the Hezb-i Islami's tendency to internecine fighting was given on 9 July 1989, when Sayyed Jamal, one of Hekmatyar's commanders, ambushed and murdered 30 commanders of Massoud's Shura-ye-Nazar at Farkhar in Takhar province. The attack was typical of Hekmatyar's strategy of trying to cripple rival factions, and incurred widespread condemnation among the mujahideen.[28]

Author Peter Bergen states that "by the most conservative estimates, $600 million" in American aid through Pakistan "went to the Hizb party, ... Hekmatyar's party had the dubious distinction of never winning a significant battle during the war, training a variety of militant Islamists from around the world, killing significant numbers of mujahideen from other parties, and taking a virulently anti-Western line. In addition to hundreds of millions of dollars of American aid, Hekmatyar also received the lion's share of aid from the Saudis."[29]

Pakistan General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq felt the need to warn Hekmatyar that it was Pakistan that made him an Afghan leader and it is Pakistan who can equally destroy him if he continues to misbehave.[30]

As the war began to appear increasingly winnable for the Mujahideen, Islamic fundamentalist elements within the ISI became increasingly motivated by their desire to install the fundamentalist Hekmatyar as the new leader of a liberated Afghanistan.

Alfred McCoy, author of The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, accused the CIA of supporting Hekmatyar drug trade activities, basically providing him immunity against his assistance in the fight against the USSR.[31]

Hekmatyar met Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street when he was a favourite of MI6 and the CIA in the war against the Russians.[32]

Post-DRA civil war

In April 1992, as the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan began to collapse, government officials joined the mujahideen, choosing different parties according to their ethnic and political affinities. For the most part, the members of the khalq faction of the PDPA, who were predominantly Pashtuns, joined with Hekmatyar.[33] With their help, he began on 24 April to infiltrate troops into Kabul, and announced that he had seized the city, and that should any other leaders try to fly into Kabul, he would shoot their plane down.[34] The new leader of the "Islamic Interim Government of Afghanistan", Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, appointed Ahmed Shah Massoud as defense minister, and urged him to take action. This he did, taking the offensive on 25 April, and after two days heavy fighting, the Hezb-i Islami and its allies were expelled from Kabul.[35] A peace agreement was signed with Massoud on 25 May 1992, which made Hekmatyar Prime Minister. However, the agreement fell apart when he was blamed for a rocket attack on President Mojaddedi's plane.[36] The following day, fighting resumed between Burhanuddin Rabbani's and Ahmed Shah Massoud's Jamiat, Abdul Rashid Dostum's Jumbish forces and Hekmatyar's Hezb-i Islami forces.

From 1992 to 1996 the warring factions destroyed most of Kabul and killed thousands of people, most of them civilians during the Afghan civil war. All the different parties participated in the destruction, but Hekmatyar's group was responsible for most of the damage, because of his practice of deliberately targeting civilian areas.[37] Hekmatyar is thought to have bombarded Kabul in retaliation for what he considered its inhabitants' collaboration with the Soviets, and out of religious conviction. He once told a New York Times journalist that Afghanistan "already had one and a half million martyrs. We are ready to offer as many to establish a true Islamic Republic."[38] His attacks also had a political objective: to undermine the Rabbani government by proving that Rabbani and Massoud were unable to protect the population.[39]

In 1994 Hekmatyar would shift alliances, joining with Dostum as well as Hizb-e-Wahdat, a Hazara Shi'a party, to form the Shura-i Hamahangi ("Council of coordination"). Together they laid siege to Kabul, unleashing massive barrages of artillery and rockets that led to the evacuation of U.N. personnel from Kabul, and caused several government members to abandon their posts. However the new alliance did not spell victory for Hekmatyar, and in June 1994, Massoud had driven Dostum's troops from the capital.[40]

Further information: Afghan Civil War (1992-1996)

Relations with the Taliban

Further information: Afghan Civil War (1996-2001)

The Pakistani military had supported Hekmatyar until then in the hope of installing a Pashtun-dominated government in Kabul, which would be friendly to their interests. By 1994, it had become clear that Hekmatyar would never achieve this, and that his extremism had antagonised most Pashtuns, so the Pakistanis began turning towards the predominantly Pashtun Taliban.[41] After capturing Kandahar in November 1994, the Taliban made rapid progress towards Kabul, making inroads into Hezb-i Islami positions. They captured Wardak on 2 February 1995, and moved on to Maidan Shahr on 10 February and Mohammed Agha the next day. Very soon, Hekmatyar found himself caught between the advancing Taliban and the government forces, and the morale of his men collapsed.[42] On 14 February, he was forced to abandon his headquarters at Charasiab, from where rockets were fired at Kabul, and flee in disorder to Surobi.[43]

Nonetheless, in May 1996, Rabbani and Hekmatyar finally formed a power-sharing government in which Hekmatyar was made prime minister. Rabbani was anxious to enhance the legitimacy of his government by enlisting the support of Pashtun leaders. However, the Mahipar agreement did not bring any such benefits to him as Hekmatyar had little grassroots support, but did have many adverse effects: it caused outrage among Jamiat supporters, and among the population of Kabul, who had endured Hekmatyar's attacks for the last four years. Moreover, the agreement was clearly not what the Pakistanis wanted, and convinced them of Hekmatyar's weakness, and that they should shift their aid entirely over to the Taliban. Hekmatyar took office on 26 June, and immediately started issuing severe decrees on women's dress, that struck a sharp contrast with the relatively liberal policy that Massoud had followed until then. The Taliban responded to the agreement with a further spate of rocket attacks on the capital.[44]

The Rabbani/Hekmatyar regime lasted only a few months before the Taliban took control of Kabul in September 1996. Many of the HIG local commanders joined the Taliban "both out of ideological sympathy and for reason of tribal solidarity." [45] Those that did not were expelled by the Taliban. In Pakistan Hezb-e-Islami training camps "were taken over by the Taliban and handed over" to Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) groups such as the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP).[46]

Hekmatyar then fled to Iran in 1997 where he is said to have resided for almost six years. Isolated from Afghanistan he is reported to have "lost ... his power base back home" to defections or inactivity of former members. He was also distrusted by the Iranian Government who found him too unpredictable, unreliable, and an unnecessary liability, considering its tense relations at the time with the Taliban and the Pakistani government, and despite his pleas, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards refused to establish a proxy through any of his organizations or assist him in any way.[47] Allegedly, they even cut his phone lines and turned away anyone who wished to see him in his villa in North Tehran.[48]

Post-11 September 2001 activities

After the 9/11 attacks in the United States Hekmatyar, who had allegedly "worked closely" with bin Laden in early 1990s,[49] declared his opposition to the US campaign in Afghanistan and criticized Pakistan for assisting the United States. After the U.S. entry into the anti-Taliban alliance and the fall of the Taliban, Hekmatyar rejected the U.N.-brokered accord of 5 December 2001 negotiated in Germany as a post-Taliban interim government for Afghanistan.

As a result of pressure by the US and the Karzai administration, on 10 February 2002 all the offices of Hezb-e-Islami were closed in Iran and Hekmatyar was expelled by his Iranian hosts.[1]

On 6 May 2002 the U.S. CIA fired on his vehicle convoy using a Lockheed Martin manufactured AGM-114 Hellfire missile launched from an MQ-1 Predator aircraft. The missile missed its target.[50]

The United States accuses Hekmatyar of urging Taliban fighters to re-form and fight against Coalition troops in Afghanistan. He is also accused of offering bounties for those who kill U.S. troops. He has been labeled a war criminal by members of the U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai's government. He is also a suspect behind the 5 September 2002 assassination attempt on Karzai that killed more than a dozen people.

In September 2002, Hekmatyar released a taped message calling for jihad against the United States.

On 25 December 2002 the news broke that American spy organizations had discovered Hekmatyar attempting to join al-Qaeda. According to the news, he had said that he was available to aid them. However, in a video released by Hekmatyar 1 September 2003, he denied forming alliances with the Taliban or al-Qaeda, but praised attacks against U.S. and international forces.

On 19 February 2003 the United States State Department and the United States Treasury Department jointly designated Hekmatyar a "global terrorist."[51] This designation meant that any assets Hekmatyar held in the USA, or held through companies based in the US, would be frozen. The US also requested the United Nations Committee on Terrorism to follow suit, and designate Hekmatyar an associate of Osama bin Laden.

In October 2003, he declared a ceasefire with local commanders in Jalalabad, Kunar, Logar and Sarobi, and stated that they should only fight foreigners.

In May 2006, he released a video to Al Jazeera in which he accused Iran of backing the US in the Afghan conflict and said he was ready to fight alongside Osama bin Laden and blamed the ongoing conflicts in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan on US interference.[52]

In September 2006, he was reported as captured, but the report was later retracted.[53]

In December 2006, a video was released in Pakistan, where Gulbuddin Hekmatyar claimed "the fate Soviet Union faced is awaiting America as well."

In January 2007 CNN reported that Hekmatyar claimed "that his fighters helped Osama bin Laden escape from the mountains of Tora Bora five years ago." BBC news reported a quote from a December 2006 interview broadcast on GEO TV, "We helped them [bin Laden and Zawahiri] get out of the caves and led them to a safe place."[54]

2008 Resurgence

In May 2008, the Jamestown Foundation reported that after being "sidelined from Afghan politics" since the mid-1990s, Gulbuddin's HIG group has "recently reemerged as an aggressive militant group, claiming responsibility for many bloody attacks against Coalition forces and the administration of President Hamid Karzai." The re-emergence of this "experienced guerrilla strategist" comes at a propitious time for insurgency, following the killing of Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah, when some elements of the Taliban were becoming "disorganized and frustrated."[1]

HIG has claimed responsibility for and is thought to have at least assisted in a 27 April 2008 attempt on the life of President Karzai in Kabul that killed three Afghan citizens, including a member of parliament. Other attacks it is thought to be responsible for include the 2 January 2008 shooting down of a helicopter containing foreign troops in the Laghman province; the shooting and forcing down a U.S. military helicopter in the Sarubi district of Kabul on 22 January; and blowing up a Kabul police vehicle in March 2008, killing 10 soldiers.[1]

In interviews he has demanded "all foreign forces to leave immediately unconditionally." Offers by President Hamid Karzai to open talks with "opponents of the government" and hints that they would be offered official posts "such as deputy minister or head of department", are thought to be directed at Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar reportedly now lives today in an unknown location in southeastern Afghanistan, somewhere close to the Pakistani border.[1] In 2008 he denied any links with the Taliban or al-Qaeda and was even considered for Prime Minister.[55]

Hekmatyar is now believed to shuttle between hideouts in Pakistan's mountainous tribal areas and in northeast Afghanistan.[56]

In January 2010, he was still considered as one of the three main leaders of the Afghan insurgency. By then, he held out the possibility of negotiations with President Karzai and outlined a roadmap for political reconciliation. This contrasted with the views of Taliban leader Mullah Omar and allied insurgent chief Sirajuddin Haqqani, who refuse any talks with Kabul as long as foreign troops remain in the country, Hekmatyar appeared less reluctant.[57]

Gulbuddin's relatives

Some of Gulbuddin's relatives have served, or are suspected of serving as his deputies.

Gulbuddin's relatives
name relation role notes
Shahabuddin Hekmatyar brother Arrested due to his ties with Gulbuddin in August 2008.[58][59] Released in January 2009.[60]
Abdullah Shabab son Captured in 2007.[60]
Salahuddin son Captured in 2007 and released in 2009.[60]
Habib-ur-Rahman son spokesman Gave interviews describing Gulbuddin's position in peace negotiations in 2010.[61]
Ghairat Baheer son-in-law A medical doctor who spent four years in CIA custody.[62][63][64][65][66]
Jamal Jamaluddin Hikmatyar son Founded the Youths Reforming Organization.[67]
Firoz Feroz Hekmatyar son diplomat Represented the HiG at a peace conference in the Maldives in 2010.[68]
Ahktar Muhammed brother Gulbuddin's brother.[69]
Houmayoun Jarir Jareer in-law Either Gulbuddin's son-in-law, or the son-in-law of Ahktar Muhammed, Gulbuddin's brother.[69]
Habibullah Shahab nephew Born in 1995, he was killed by a US airstrike on April 21, 2011.[70] He was reported to have played a role in "the jihad against US Forces".


Further reading

  • Coll, Steve. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to 10 September 2001 Penguin Press, 2004. ISBN 978-1-59420-007-6.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Abdul Sabur Farid Kuhestani
Prime Minister of Afghanistan
Succeeded by
Arsala Rahmani
Preceded by
Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai
Prime Minister of Afghanistan
Succeeded by
Muhammad Rabbani
Preceded by
Office created
Prime Minister of the Northern Alliance
Succeeded by
Abdul Rahim Ghafoorzai
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