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Afghanistan: Commander Seen As Wearing Out Iranian Welcome

By William Samii (Newsline)

Former Afghan prime minister and mujahedin commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been living in Iran since 1996. During that time, Hekmatyar often criticized Iran's policies and those of its allies, but Tehran put up with him. Now, Tehran's tolerance seems to have ended, and the Iranian government is thinking of expelling him.

Kabul, 8 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was a powerful commander during Afghanistan's war against the Soviet Union and the main recipient of U.S. and Saudi funding channeled through Pakistan. He later served as prime minister in the government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani that preceded the Taliban.

The government in which Hekmatyar served was an uneasy alliance of the mujahedin groups that had expelled the Soviets. This grouping later fell apart and Hekmatyar's forces participated in a battle that leveled parts of Kabul.

Hekmatyar's former spokesman and publicity chief during the war against the Soviets is Haji Mangal Hussein. He now serves as Afghanistan's minister of irrigation.

He explained Hekmatyar's behavior in a recent interview with RFE/RL: "I found Hekmatyar very much [an] unstable person. He is always a position-seeking person. He doesn't have a constant policy or a stable policy, you know. [He] was against the Northern Alliance. He was against the administration here. He fought against the administration. He destroyed half of Kabul, and then later on he joined this administration."

In 1996, having alienated his Pakistani allies -- who at the time had begun supporting the Taliban -- Hekmatyar made his way to Iran. There, he came out against the Afghan groups that formed the Northern Alliance, or United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan. He also got involved with the "Cyprus Process," which was initiated in 1999 by Tehran as a countermeasure to other Afghan peace processes.

As it became increasingly obvious that Afghanistan would face military action following the 11 September terrorist attacks against the U.S., Hekmatyar became more outspoken.

In early October, he criticized Tehran for supporting the Northern Alliance, and he denounced the alliance for its willingness to cooperate with the U.S. He said that he was negotiating with the Taliban, and in case of a U.S. military attack, would return to oppose U.S. forces. He had not really changed his tune by November, and he claimed that he was in touch with all Afghans, even Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Haji Mangal Hussein pointed out the inconsistencies in Hekmatyar's behavior. He told RFE/RL, "Initially, he was against the Taliban. He termed the Taliban as creatures of the United States of America, as creatures of Great Britain. He mentioned the name of the former British ambassador to Islamabad, Mr. Nicholas Barrington, as the creator of the Taliban. But later on he was willing to join the Taliban."

Hekmatyar also criticized the Afghan peace talks, held in November near the German city of Bonn. Hekmatyar's opposition came in spite of the fact that "Cyprus Process" representatives participated in the talks and that his Iranian hosts were actively involved in bringing the different Afghan sides together.

Hekmatyar was quoted on 8 January in a Tehran newspaper, "Jomhuri-yi Islami," as saying the Bonn conference was an "American conference" and that it was managed under American control. He told the paper that he would have felt ashamed to participate in a meeting under America's influence.

The daily pointed out Hekmatyar had not been invited, to which he responded, "I would not have participated even if they had invited me a hundred times." Hekmatyar says he is not impressed with Afghanistan's current administration or its leader, Hamid Karzai.

But in the opinion of Haji Mangal Hussein, Hekmatyar has not given up his pursuit of a leadership position: "But even now I have heard that his delegation is here in Kabul, and therefore I can say that he is not a stable person. He is a power-thirsty person. He is just after power. He doesn't have a special policy or ideology. His main targets are to be in power, to be in a stronger position."

Now it appears that Hekmatyar has gone too far, especially because Tehran wants to give the impression that it is backing stability in Afghanistan in contrast to allegations by the United States that Iran is sheltering suspected Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said Tehran may expel Hekmatyar and is discussing this with Kabul.

The official Islamic Republic News Agency on 6 February quoted the interior minister as saying, "Iran is not a place for any individual or group to make mischievous acts or any other action." He said the Ministry of Intelligence and Security is investigating the Hekmatyar case. The question then becomes who will accept Hekmatyar, or will he return to Kabul to face trial for his part in destroying the city.