Pakistan's Support of Afghan Islamists, 1975-79

Afghanistan Table of Contents

Afghanistan's political relationship with Pakistan had been aggravated by Daud's revival of the Pushtunistan issue in 1973. Islamist fugitives were greeted as an opportunity by the government of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. They might counter Daud's anticipated meddling with Pakistan's Pushtuns.

Among the leaders of the Islamist escapees were Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Rabbani had been among the founders of the Islamic ideology movement at Kabul University. Hekmatyar was a former engineering student who had become a full-time political activist and charismatic student leader. The Pakistan government provided them facilities and training at Peshawar. The Saudi Arabian government also found them interesting enough to provide funding. Would-be mujahidin leaders were groomed to make trouble for the Afghan government three years before the Saur coup.

Much happened in between. While he was purging the Parchamis, Daud was looking for allies among Afghanistan's neighbors. His overtures led to reconciliation with Bhutto in 1976-77. Meanwhile, Hekmatyar and Rabbani split over strategy for overthrowing the Afghan government. This led to a deep divide within the mujahidin movement.

At the root of their dispute were sharp differences in social origins and in political strategies. Neither man was born to social prominence. Rabbani was a Tajik from the northeastern province of Badakshan who became a member of the religious elite through his achievements as a scholar. He saw the transformation of Afghan government as a long-term project. Only after mobilizing the peasants and winning over key elements in the armed forces could Islamic leaders take over the government. He therefore argued for the building of a widely based movement that would create popular support.

Hekmatyar came from Baghlan Province, also in northeast Afghanistan, but was a Pushtun Kharruti, a Ghilzai tribe uprooted from the Ghazni region early in the century. Hekmatyar's Islamism was outspokenly radical; his ability as a leader offset his lack of formal Islamic education. He disagreed with Rabbani on the need for a mass movement to bring an Islamic government to power. He argued for a sudden seizure of government by a highly disciplined elitist party. In order to hone and preserve such a vanguard, he took care to shield it from risks. Their differences are indicated in the names of their parties. Hekmatyar's is the Hezb-i-Islami (Party of Islam), Rabbani's is Jamiat-i-Islami (Islamic Society). Their rivalry would become the pivot on which the politics of the resistance would turn.

In sociological terms the contest between Hekmatyar and Rabbani has been a near mirror image of that between Khalq and Parcham. This rivalry pitted Dari speakers against Pushtuns, especially the Ghilzais. It juxtaposed an educated elite against newly educated arrivals to Kabul. In both rivalries gradualist militants confronted radicals who insisted on abrupt, immediate change. Society and ideology mixed to produce an ominous political confrontation.

Pakistan was to play a crucial role in the expatriate politics that followed. Zia ul Haq, who had assumed the presidency after removing Bhutto, was still consolidating his military government when the Marxists seized power in Kabul. He continued Bhutto's support of the Afghan emigres. Hekmatyar and Rabbani received funding, training, and equipment from Pakistan's Interservice Intelligence Directorate (ISI).

Both leaders were also on good terms with their Pakistani counterpart, the Ja'amat-i-Islami. The Ja'amat connection was especially valuable to the more militant mujahidin. Its organization and ideology closely resembled Hekmatyar's Hezb. In the 1980s it was to develop strong political ties with Zia and his military establishment.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress