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The Return of the Heckmatyar

The Man Who Shouldn’t be King (of Afghanistan)

by PAUL FITZERGALD And ELIZABETH GOULD

It was hoped that t he election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States would bring a change of course to the beleaguered US effort in Afghanistan. But word that representatives of the Taliban and the infamous Afghan drug trafficker and extremist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar might be on the president’s list of possible solutions, looms as a clear sign that the United States is about to step into a trap of its own making.

Employing Afghanistan’s drug-dealing warlords is nothing new for Washington. The U.S. elevated Pakistan’s drug-warlords to beltway cult status vis a vis Charlie Wilson’s War during the Soviet occupation and insisted on including them in the new Afghan government in 2002.  Numerous observers claim that Washington had a hand in the Taliban’s creation as well, standing by as they rolled over Afghanistan in league with Al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Intelligence Service (ISI) in the late 1990’s.

But should Gulbuddin Hekmatyar be allowed to make a political comeback, the new administration may find that partnering with the devil himself might be a better choice than with Afghanistan’s longest running and most notorious holy warrior.

According to a Washington Post report, Hekmatyar’s Hesb-i Islami organization is gaining support in every province in Afghanistan. This news followed a Times of London report in which the British ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles reportedly stated that the best hope for Afghanistan was to install “an acceptable dictator.”  

Should the Pashtun Hekmatyar emerge as Cowper-Coles’s suitably acceptable dictator, an increasingly desperate and financially impaired U.S. could be faced with a defacto extremist victory. Or could it be that within the serpentine meanderings of Washington’s foreign policy aristocracy, a Taliban/Hekmatyar ruled Afghanistan may have been the plan all along?

America’s multitude of policy mistakes in Afghanistan have mystified many from the beginning. In a February 2, 2009 Times of London Online article, the international community’s High Representative in Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown accepted responsibility for the Afghan fiasco admitting that “We are trying to win in Afghanistan with one twenty-fifth the troops and one fiftieth of the aid per head in Bosnia… [T]he real problem is not President Karzai, it’s us.” Yet, much of the ongoing discussion continues to lay blame on beleaguered Afghans while continuing to soft-peddle the Pakistani military’s central role in Afghanistan’s instability.

Throughout the Cold War Pakistan did everything in its power to destabilize a succession of Afghan governments while dismissing Afghanistan’s legitimate grievances regarding its arbitrary 19th century boundary known as the Durand line. Yet Britain’s former secretary of state for defense, Malcolm Rifkind wrote in The Independent  in June of 2007 that the United States and Britain should pressure Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept the Durand line. And should he not, what are the chances that an acceptable dictatorship of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar might accommodate British and Pakistani demands?

Thanks to Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson and his influential friend Joanne Herring, Hekmatyar received the bulk of U.S. and Saudi money during the 1980’s, despite dire warnings from some of Afghanistan’s most revered religious families that he was a  “monster.” According to  Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Tim Weiner even CIA and State Department officials referred to him as “‘scary,’ ‘vicious,’ ‘a fascist,’ ‘definite dictatorship material.’”

The post-9/11 American and NATO war against the Taliban was widely viewed at the time as a long overdue opportunity to correct the policy mistakes in Afghanistan embodied by the Taliban but beginning with Hekmatyar. But instead of helping Afghans rebuild their nation by providing the necessary security, the war has been turned against the Afghan people.

Today, as Pakistani Taliban, Arab Al Qaeda and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hesb-e Islami fighters once again swarm over the countryside, the western alliance that pledged itself to establishing an Afghan democracy scrambles madly to negotiate its way out of its commitment. 

But in choosing his next step, President Obama should be warned that the record of decision making for American Presidents on Afghanistan is abysmal. Although those decisions presented the Soviet Union with its final test and brought it to its knees, it also planted dreams of conquest in the minds of America’s leaders that have led the United States to find itself caught in its own trap.

Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould are authors of Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold Story, available from City Lights Books  and  Invisiblehistory.com