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Afghanistan: Skeptics Urge Caution Over Purported Hekmatyar Cease-Fire

By Ron Synovitz

July 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Reports of a possible cease-fire declared by rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have emerged in Afghanistan, but close allies of the mujahedin-era prime minister say it's a fake and insist his armed opposition continues to the Afghan government and international security forces.

Meanwhile, an RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent reports that a purported Taliban pamphlet in Helmand Province indicates disunity among Taliban commanders over who should lead the movement's operations in Afghanistan.

Reports that Hekmatyar declared a cease-fire are based on a statement purportedly signed by Hekmatyar himself.

Hekmatyar has made no public appearance to confirm or reject its authenticity.

But a longtime political ally of Hekmatyar who now serves as his spokesman says the cease-fire declaration is bogus. Spokesman Haroun Zarghun told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan today that Hekmatyar has not declared any cease-fire. He said the declaration appears to be part of a conspiracy to damage Hekmatyar's political reputation in Afghanistan.

Afghan government officials say they remain unsure of the authenticity of the cease-fire declaration. Hekmatyar has said in the past that he will not join the political process in Kabul until all international forces have left Afghanistan.

The statement has been aired by a private television channel and is being circulated in Kabul today. It says members of Hekmatyar's militant Islamic Hezb-e Islami movement have "stopped and refrained" from killing other Muslims and destroying the country in order to participate in "political activity."

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and author of the book "Taliban," told RFE/RL today that he is skeptical that all Hizb-e Islami fighters would heed such a cease-fire in the absence of a videotaped declaration by Hekmatyar himself.

"Obviously, if it's true, it would be an enormous boost to the government of Afghanistan," Rashid said. "But Hekmatyar has blown hot and cold many, many times in the last few years. Just three months ago, he came out first talking about a possible rapprochement with the regime and then saying he would never have a rapprochement. So we really don't know where he stands at the moment. And I think that unless it becomes clearer -- possibly with Hekmatyar himself appearing in some kind of video announcing a cease-fire -- unless it becomes clearer, I would be still very skeptical that all of Hizb-e Islami would stop fighting."

History Of Action

Hekmatyar's Hizb-e Islamai is the larger and more radical of two Islamist mujahedin movements with the same name, which translates as "Party of Islam." The origins of Hekmatyar's group were in the Muslim Youth movement of the 1960s that opposed the secularization of Afghan society and the emergence of Marxist groups at Kabul University.

Forced underground during the 1970s and 1980s, Hekmatyar fled to Pakistan, where he fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan by carrying out isolated raids. Those raids later developed into the kind of modern guerrilla warfare that helped end the Soviet occupation.

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Hekmatyar's movement and the Jamiat-e Islami movement of Burhanuddin Rabbani became the major protagonists in the battle for Kabul during the early 1990s, when much of the Afghan capital was destroyed.

Hekmatyar concluded an alliance with Rabbani in May of 1996 and briefly held the title of Afghan prime minister.

Fundamentalist Credentials

It was the conservative Islamist Hekmatyar's measures that prohibited the broadcast of music from Kabul Radio and television before the rise of the Taliban. Hekmatyar also ordered women to wear strict "Islamic" dress before he and Rabbani were expelled from Kabul by the Taliban.

After the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001, Hekmatyar continued to wage war as a renegade figure, fighting against Afghan government and the international security forces in Afghanistan.

In 2006, Hekmatyar appeared in a video aired on the Arabic language Al-Jazeera television station and declared he wanted his forces to fight alongside Al-Qaeda.

Quariburahman Sayyed, a close ally of Hekmatyar who had been his spokesman until the 1990s, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan today that he doubts the authenticity of the cease-fire declaration.

"The way I know Hekmatyar, it is not likely that he will compromise his demand for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan," Sayyed said. "He has always insisted that foreign forces should leave Afghanistan first and then he would talk to the government."

On July 15, the Afghan Defense Ministry announced that 30 fighters aligned with Hizb-e Islami had laid down their weapons and agreed to cooperate with the government.

Signs Of Taliban Division

In southern Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Saleh Mohammad Saleh reports signs that divisions are emerging between Taliban commanders.

Saleh on July 18 obtained a pamphlet purportedly signed by Taliban commanders from Helmand Province that criticizes Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and his leadership council.

The pamphlet, known as a "Taliban night letter," was distributed to tribal elders in Helmand after the Taliban Leadership Council reportedly met in Quetta, Pakistan, earlier this month and decided to put non-Afghan Al-Qaeda fighters in charge of Taliban operations.

"We criticize the decision of Mullah Mohammad Omar," said a copy obtained by a tribal elder who read its contents to RFE/RL but requested anonymity. The pamphlet continued: "We don't accept any other commander. If they continue on this path, we will leave the movement. We only want to carry out jihad against Americans and this is our wish. And we will fight until the end against foreign troops. But the decision of the leadership council in Quetta was a wrong decision. They want to appoint Uzbek or Chechens instead of a Taliban commander. And Mullah Mohammad Omar, you should know that Pashtuns never want to be slaves. We will not accept a Chechen or Uzbek commander. It is still unclear whether Uzbeks and Chechens are good Muslims. Death is better than accepting their commands. If this happens, we will stop and leave everything to Mullah Omar."

Rashid says he does not believe that Mullah Omar and other members of the Taliban leadership would agree to allow non-Afghans to guide their movement -- even though Al-Qaeda has a clear behind-the-scenes role in supporting the Taliban.

"I think there's a huge disinformation campaign -- probably being carried out by NATO and the Americans -- in order to present Mullah Omar in a light in which he is seen as being just a tool of Al-Qaeda and foreigners," Rashid argues. "Many Afghans would be prepared to buy that. Certainly, the Taliban propaganda is being countered now very decisively by a NATO-American counterpropaganda offensive. So we have to take all of this with a pinch of salt."

Taliban spokesman Qari Josef has dismissed the pamphlet, telling RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that it was "propaganda."

(Contributors to this report include RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Saleh Mohammad Saleh in Helmand and Ahmad Takal in Prague)

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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