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CIA Afghan Fubar Redux?

By Jack Wheeler
jwheeler@politicalusa.com

10/8/2001

 

As many recent commentaries have noted, there was no unified command of Afghan "Mujahaddin" freedom fighters resisting the Soviet occupation of their country in the 1980s. There were about half a dozen major groups and a host of smaller ones. 

The legendary commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, assassinated by OBL (Osama Bin Laden) agents just before The Atrocity, belonged to the "Jamiat" group led by Burhanuddin Rabbani. Qari Baba, the famous commander in Ghazni, who looked like a cross between Buddha and Genghiz Khan, was part of the Harakat group. Ramatullah Safi was the most outstanding commander of the Gailani group. Abdul Haq was the same for the Younis Khalis group. 

With one exception, all of these groups and commanders pretty much cooperated with each other. Their political leaders met and worked together (I attended some of their meetings), their commanders and bands of fighters did the same (which I witnesses in the field). Rarely did they fight amongst themselves, but focused instead on their common enemy, the Shuravi -- Afghan for Soviet Russians. The exception was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the "Hezbis." I went inside Afghanistan with every major Mujahaddin group - except for the Hezbis. I met Gulbuddin and interviewed him in August 1984 - and found him to be an Islamic Fascist, an admirer of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and a hater of America. Everywhere I went inside Afghanistan in the 1980s, the story was always the same: the Hezbis spent their time fighting other Mujahaddin groups for turf instead of the Shuravi. Rather than fight for the freedom of Afghanistan, Gulbuddin hoarded his weapons, planning a takeover of his country once the other Mujahaddin had liberated it for him.

It may -- or it may not -- come as a surprise to learn that the CIA was obsessively insistent that the lion's share of arms and support they gave to the Afghan Mujahaddin went to Gulbuddin. The term "obsessive" is in no way hyperbolic. The CIA's obsession to support Gulbuddin in vast preference to all other Mujahaddin leaders bordered on the pathological. Every agent I ever talked to -- especially the armchair analysts at Langley -- was insufferably condescending whenever I would state that Gulbuddin's people did no fighting, that the other groups were begging for weapons while the Hezbis had an oversupply of weapons they didn't use. The agents' would patronizingly assure me their "intel" contradicted what I and every other independent observer who actually went into Afghanistan saw with our own eyes -- so we all must be wrong.

A number of United States Congressmen also had figured out that the CIA was lying about Gulbuddin's effectiveness, and were well aware of the great danger he was to the future of Afghanistan. I once delivered a personally written note from one such Congressman to Burhanuddin Rabbani. We had met a number of times before, but on this occasion we had a long discussion. The note was an explicit request for Rabbani to have his people spare no effort to assassinate Gulbuddin.

"If you do not do this," I explained to Rabbani and his chief aide, "Engineer" Abdul Rahim, "any victory the Afghans achieve over the Shuravi will result in chaos and disaster. Gulbuddin has to be killed, killed dead, if Afghanistan is to have any future and any freedom." After our discussion, the Congressman's letter, of which no copies were made, was burned before my eyes. A few days later, Gulbuddin's Toyota Land Cruiser blew up in Peshawar, Pakistan. Gulbuddin's driver was killed, but Gulbuddin, although injured, survived. Subsequent attempts also failed.

When the Shuravi were forced to retreat in defeat in February, 1989, freedom for Afghanistan seemed clearly on the horizon. Yet right on schedule, Gulbuddin began his war for power. While Rabbani, as leader of the strongest and best organized freedom fighter group, attempted to put together a coherent government in Kabul, Gulbuddin began shelling the city. The CIA and their Pakistan counterpart, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) forced Rabbani to accept a coalition government with Gulbuddin as Prime Minister, and with it, the resignation of Massoud as his Defense Minister. Massoud's departure as Defense Minister precipitated Afghanistan's collapse into the utter chaos that made the Taliban possible.

Afghanistan, it must be understood, is an artificially created country, an ethnic hodge-podge glued together for the purpose of keeping the British Raj and the Russian Empire apart and not touching. Look at the map and you'll see this narrow sliver of Afghan territory, the "Wakhan Corridor," on the top right corner that goes all the way to China, barely separating what is now Tadjikistan (but in the late 1800s Russian Central Asia) and what is now Pakistan (but then British India). Pakistan is similarly artificial, another ethnic stir-fry created as a refuge for Indian Moslems who didn't want to be ruled by Indian Hindus (who outnumbered them 2-to-1) when India got its independence after WWII.

North of the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan, the ethnic majorities are Tadjik and Uzbek. South the main tribe is the Pushtuns. Pakistan is composed of Baluchi nomads in its south western deserts bordering Iran, Sindhis in the southern Indus region, Punjabis in the central Indus - and along the border with Afghanistan it's all Pushtun. The Pak government has never exercised true sovereignty over the Pushtun area, known as the NWFA (North West Frontier Agency), and has always been terrified of the demand for an independent "Pushtunistan" breaking Pakistan apart. It was this fear that caused the Paks to freak out when Afghanistan went completely anarchic. Gulbuddin was their Pushtun guy. The Tadjiks -- Rabbani and Massoud -- were out. The Paks had gotten their wish and the Chinese proverb about being careful for what you wished for had become nightmarishly apropos. In desperation, they turned to a group of nutcase fanatics calling themselves "students" ("taliban") although most of them were thoroughly illiterate. The ISI saw an opportunity for a business relationship in the bargain -- a joint venture to operate the heroin business.

Sixty percent of the world's heroin comes out of Afghanistan. That only happens with the full cooperation of the governments involved -- in this case the Taliban government in Afghanistan and the ISI "government within a government" in Pakistan. With the money from the heroin trade, the Taliban were able to bribe opposing commanders and proceeded to take over the country with hardly a battle. Only Massoud resisted. 

The point to all of this history is that the CIA's buddy, Gulbuddin, seems poised for a comeback. The Taliban chased him out of Kabul and into exile with his Islamic Fascist friends in Iran. President Bush's clearly stated goal in Afghanistan is not simply the physical elimination of Osama Bin Laden and all his cohorts, but the political elimination of the Taliban regime. Much attention is now being paid to former King Zahir Shah as a focus for a new government. The fly of Gulbuddin is an absolutely sure way to spoil this ointment on Afghan wounds. Thus the question of the moment is: Has the CIA abandoned its obsession with Gulbuddin? It is imperative for all those interested in the fate of Afghanistan to be watchful of any attempt to bring Gulbuddin back into influence. It is imperative that the instant this happens, Rabbani's people complete the job at which they failed. It is imperative, finally, to understand that if Gulbuddin is brought back to any prominence, it will be at the CIA's specific approval -- which means that our own intelligence agency cannot be trusted to help win America's War with Moslem Terrorism.

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Dr. Jack Wheeler, 2001, All rights reserved.


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