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Hichem Karoui: An ambitious killer
May 19, 2013
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The Hizb-i-Islami of Afghanistan, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, claimed responsibility for the attack against an American convoy in Kabul on Thursday May 16. Six American military advisers (two Nato service members, four Nato contractors), and at least ten Afghan civilians were killed, and forty-two others wounded. Thirty vehicles, including two of foreigners, and dozens of houses were destroyed in the bombing.

The spokesman for the party, Haroon Zarghoon, told Reuters, “We planned this attack for over a week.” He identified the suicide bomber as Qari Qudratullah from central Lugar province.

“More attacks against Americans will come soon,” declared Zarghoon to the press. Asked about the reason, he said that Hizb-i-Islami was dismayed by the current talks between Afghanistan and the United States about a long-term security deal under which thousands of American soldiers could be based in Afghanistan for years to come.

Actually, the story is a bit more complicated than “a matter of principles,” as the terrorists want to present it. Maybe it is more related to the US talks with the Taliban – a serious rival of Hizb-i-Islami – than to a “security deal” with Karzai. The statement announcing the opening of an office in Doha for the Taliban highlighted, to several observers, their credentials as an organic, capable, and legitimate actor in Afghan politics.

In this context, the stance of Hizb-i-Islami concerning the continuation of war against the Americans actually expresses the ambition of Hekmatyar, who is preparing himself and his party for the day when the US troops leave Afghanistan. The “Engineer,” as they label him, likely intends to fill up the vacuum left by the US, and eventually to eject the current rulers and take over. As his past and recent actions tell us, it would hardly be done through the democratic electoral process. At some time, the fight with the Taliban would become unavoidable.

Hekmatyar, originally from Baghlan, is often labelled “Engineer,” although he never graduated from any University. Before pretending “devotion” to Islam and getting into Islamic politics, he was an activist for the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (the Afghan Communist Party.) In 1972, he fled to Pakistan, after he was found guilty of killing a man, and founded Hizb-i- Islami.

Today, Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) is a breakaway faction of the Hizb-i-Islami, which has joined the Afghan government. Several observers consider HIG as a radical hardline group, aligned with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, although they are rivals. Hekmatyar seemingly had sworn allegiance to Osama Bin Laden in 2006.

Some think he is closely associated to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, since he founded his party in the seventies, in Pakistan. Hizb-i-Islami, along with other terrorist groups, is known to have bases in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Actually, the ISI has also supported his rival, the Taliban.

Some others say he is tied to the CIA, which cannot be totally unfounded, since most Afghan mujahedeen were at the time fighting under the supervision of the Agency.

Anyway, Hekmatyar is most likely running the show for his own interests and thirst for power. He certainly views himself already as president of Afghanistan, and his past tells us he is not a man who likes sharing power.

Remember that after the victory of the Mujahedeen led by Burhanuddin Rabbani and the fall of the Communist regime, they offered him the post of Prime Minister. But he refused because he did not want to share power with anyone, and started unsuccessful and violent attempts to encroach on the power by force. However, in 1993, he changed his mind and accepted the post. He did not stay Prime Minister for a long time, though. He resigned in 1994. As soon as he did, he started pounding the capital with rockets. In 1996, they offered him again the same post. He accepted. Meanwhile, his war has much weakened the state, and most probably facilitated the onslaught of the Taliban in the same year, which prompted him to escape with Rabbani to the north.

The competition with the Taliban movement is proved.

At the beginning of last year, when the Taliban announced its readiness to negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan through a liaison office in a neutral country (Qatar), some Afghan officials revealed that a delegation of the Hizb-i-Islami had met with President Hamid Karzai and US diplomats.

Some reports mention a delegation of ranking Taliban members, including Tayeb Agha, a former secretary to Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, former Taliban foreign minister Shir Muhammad Abbas Stanekzai and former Taliban ambassador to Saudi Arabia Shihabuddin Delawar, which travelled to Doha in January 2012, to establish a formal office. A senior Afghan official has reportedly said that US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, met with representatives of the Afghan Taliban in Qatar.

Ostensibly, Hekmatyar did not appreciate to be ignored, while his rivals – i.e. the Taliban – become US interlocutors. His negotiations having been likely unsatisfactory, he resorted to weapons and terrorism. That is his way… and theirs, indeed.

He had already threatened to kill as much Americans as he could, before they live the country. He had also warned of a civil war after the US withdrawal.

The two statements are on the records. They mean that the man intends to make his way to power using force.

Make no mistake. He represents a serious threat.

The commanders of Hizb-i-Islami claim to have thousands of fighters and supporters under arms in northern Afghanistan, and say the group is flush with foreign support and fighters.

“We have around 3,000 to 4,000 Hizb-i-Islami men in the north,” a HIG commander named Kalakub told a PBS Frontline reporter who spent a week with fighters in Baghlan. “People come to us from all over Afghanistan.  They come from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. We get special mujahids from abroad, but we’re not allowed to talk about them.”

It is believed that these special mujahids are mainly Arabs from Yemen and Saudi Arabia who have been trained by Al Qaeda.

It is unfortunate that the “choice” offered to the Afghan people, when the Americans leave the country, is thus reduced to the Taliban, the Hizb-i-Islami, and the Haqqani network… all deeply involved and committed to terrorism. As to Karzai, the corruption plaguing his years in government make of him a non-option.
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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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