A Deal with the Devil

By Moreau, Ron; Yousafzai, Sami | Newsweek, April 5, 2010 | Go to article overview

A Deal with the Devil


Moreau, Ron, Yousafzai, Sami, Newsweek


Byline: Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is a vicious, brutal, devious warlord. He Could Also be One of America's Tickets out of Afghanistan.

The sprawling shamshatoo camp, just outside Peshawar, has always been the most tightly organized and disciplined Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan. The only law within its boundaries is that of Hezb-i-Islami (the Party of Islam), led by the notoriously ruthless warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Back in the 1980s, when the camp was Hekmatyar's main base in the war against the Soviets, people in Peshawar would sometimes see a corpse floating down the canal that ran beside the camp. They knew what that meant: another of Hekmatyar's supposed internal enemies had been eliminated.

For the past three decades Hekmatyar has been sending similarly stark messages to anyone paying attention. In the late 1980s his fighters often seemed more intent on ambushing other mujahedin factions than on battling the Soviets. After the collapse of the Soviet-backed regime, Hekmatyar's artillery and rockets destroyed much of Kabul, at a cost of no one knows how many civilian lives, in a failed attempt to grab power from rival mujahedin leaders. The Taliban drove him out of the country in 1996, but he returned after the U.S. invasion to wage jihad against the Americans, and in 2006 he publicly declared an alliance with Al Qaeda: "They hold the banner, and westand alongside them as supporters."

Now Hekmatyar is trying to send another message to Washington--that he will have to be reckoned with if the Americans want to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Last week a Hezb-i-Islami delegation brought a 15-point "peace proposal" to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, calling for a total U.S. withdrawal by the end of the year. Never mind the details, says Hekmatyar's spokesman, Mohammad Daoud Abedi, a California businessman who disavows any sympathy for Al Qaeda. "The main point for us is to see a process of the foreign forces leaving Afghanistan," Abedi says. "We have decided to make conditions right so that international forces can leave with honor."

The fact is that Hekmatyar has never cared to make life easy or pleasant for the Americans. He and his fighters received the largest share of U.S. aid to the mujahedin in the 1980s, courtesy of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), which controlled the distribution. He responded by denouncing American values at every opportunity. When the Taliban seized power he fled for his life to Iran, but even the Iranians kept him under virtual house arrest until early 2002, when they sent him back to Afghanistan in retaliation for George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech.

Officials in Washington express mixed reactions to the idea of negotiating with Hekmatyar. His fighters are thought to have led assaults that nearly overran two small American bases in Nuristan province last October, killing eight American soldiers and wounding 24. Many national-security professionals, especially in the intelligence field, say they're disgusted to think of cutting deals with someone who has so much blood on his hands. On the other hand, as Gen. David Petraeus likes to say, you make peace with your enemies, not your friends. People at the Pentagon are speaking more cautiously, mostly echoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates's recent assertion that it's too soon to begin discussing peace in Afghanistan.

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