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Warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is shown in Pakistan with an honor guard in 1996.

Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan, the most radical militant resistant group against the Soviet invasion and now turned politician, has once again disappointed his masters—Pakistani establishment— by performing extremely poor in the electoral results. He secured only 70,427 (3.85%) votes. The penalty of one million Afghanis, having failed to secure 10% of the votes, adds salt to the wounds. As a warlord, he failed to capture Kabul and as a politician, he fails to secure 10% votes let alone claiming victory in presidential elections.

The history between Pakistan, particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, and Gulbaddin Hekmatyar date back to 1973 when the Afghan President Daud initiated cracking down on the Islamist leaders and compelled them to exile. Hekmatyar was among the rebels who were received by the Zulfiqar Bhutto government as ‘state guests’ and received training, logistics and monetary assistance from the ISI which valued them as strategic assets against the nationalist policies and expansionist aspirations of Afghan premier, Daud Khan.

During the decade-long resistance against the Soviet invasion, Hekmatyar along his militant group Hezb-e-Islami remained the most favored Afghan Mujahideen leader receiving the lion share of money and arms funded by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and funneled through the ISI. In the Pakistani intelligence community, Hekmatyar was the chosen one for his loyalties to the Pakistani designs and objectives in Afghanistan which he believed would feature him as the sole power bearer. His obsession with power has continuously kept him closely attached with his sponsors.

The withdrawal of godless Soviets, the collapse of Najibullah’s authority and the ensuing tussle for power among the Afghan armed groups prompted Pakistan’s quest for Strategic Depth, a doctrine of gaining hold over Afghan territory to enhance the capacity of a prolonged conventional war against India, expounded by Aslam Beg, the then Chief of Army Staff and pushed by Hamid Gul, the ISI chief. Strategic Depth required a friendly or to be precise a puppet regime in Afghanistan and there was no better choice than Hekmatyar who had already declared his preferences for a confederation of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Pakistani military and Intelligence agency threw their lot in favor of Hekmatyar to subdue the warring rivals and ensure the establishment of a client regime in Kabul.  However, it was not that simple in practice given the complexity of dynamic involved in Afghan crisis.

The departing time arrived when Hekmatyar failed to realize the Pakistani expectations: Capture Kabul before others do. Hekmatyar disappointed his masters by not being able to take control of Kabul. Before him, Ahmad Shah Masoud, the archrival of Hekmatyar and prominent leader of Northern Alliance, had successfully breached and controlled the capital, leaving Hekmatyar helpless outside Kabul. What ensued later attributed Hekmatyar a globally infamous title, the Butcher of Kabul, and among Afghans he became known as Pakistan’s man. Hekmatyar shelled Kabul with rockets for months killing 60,000 residents of the capital.

Hekmatyar’s inability to capture Kabul led to his separation with the ISI which had coopted and hired a new client, more ruthless, efficient and capable to fulfill the orders: the Taliban. The emergence of Taliban and their successful takeover of power sidelined Hekmatyar who was forced to leave the country for Iran.

After the events of 9/11, the toppling of Taliban emirate and the subsequent Taliban resurgence against the US invasion and the newly established Afghan government, Hekmatyar was once again employed to work in correspondence with other players for the fulfillment of Pakistani objectives in Afghanistan. Hekmatyar remained in Pakistan, throughout the War on Terror, and continuously trained militants in Pakistani safe havens to fight Afghan and International forces.

In 2017, Hekmatyar acceded to cease hostilities and join the peace process with the Afghan government. The inclusion of Hekmatyar into the political process of Afghanistan was a product of compromise and bargain. Hekmatyar returned to Afghanistan and was welcomed with a sea of supporters. Hekmatyar’s return to Afghan politics was suspected, by many Afghans, another gambit of Pakistani establishment to enhance their influence and solidify interference on political sphere. This suspicion was substantiated by Hekmatyar’s extremely pro-Pakistani remarks and public speeches maligning the Afghan democracy and constitution.

After disappointment on the military front, Hekmatyar faced the same fate on political front. Hekmatyar, due to his fascination for power and autocratic nature, has been dealt another blow. Many prominent senior members of his party and his old entourages decided to leave the party because of Hekmatyar’s centralization of party and decision-making. Moreover, Hekmatyar’s performance in the Presidential Elections was humiliating for him and his party where he was able to secure only 3% of total votes. Hekmatyar was quick to deny the results, alleging the elections rigged. To add salt to the wounds, He will lose one million Afghani as a penalty for his failure to secure 10% votes, as per the regulations of Independent Election Commission. One thing that is quite clear is the fact that the Afghan masses have explicitly clarified that they don’t support war criminals, warlords and foreign agents anymore. 

This time, Hekmatyar’s disappointment might not spare him for another chance as Pakistan, for many years, has been striving to diversify the clients and sources to enhance the much sought soft power in Afghanistan.


  • Samiullah Doorandesh

    Samiullah Doorandesh is a student of International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He belongs to Afghanistan and writes about Afghan politics and security, South Asia, Afghan-India relations, Foreign policy and Terrorism. His writings have appeared in Small Wars Journal, Geopolitical Monitor, South Asia Journal, Pakistan Today and Modern Diplomacy. He can be reached at Samiullah.doorandesh[at]gmail.com