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Sunday, 10 February, 2002, 14:32 GMT
Iran's unlikely bedfellow
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Hekmatyar fled Kabul when the Taleban seized power
Jim Muir

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was always an unlikely bedfellow for the Iranians.

His mujahideen faction, the Hezb-e-Islami, was one of the groups which helped end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The Iranians may have regarded him as a potentially useful Pashtun card to have up their sleeve, but he has turned out to be too much of a wild card for them

But in the free-for-all that followed in the early 1990s, his group of fundamentalist Sunni Muslim Pashtuns clashed violently with other mujahideen factions in an interminable struggle for control of the capital Kabul.

The Hezb-e-Islami was blamed for much of the terrible death and destruction of that period, which paved the way for the entry of the Taleban.

Wild card

Like them, Mr Hekmatyar himself enjoyed some support from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but his anti-Americanism was so fierce that the Pakistanis turned against him and took up the Taleban instead.

Interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai
Hekmatyar is opposed to the interim Afghan administration

So like the other mujahideen factions, Mr Hekmatyar and his men were forced to flee Kabul when the Taleban swept into power in 1996.

He ended up being given refuge in Tehran, where he lived a quiet life, waiting for his fortunes to change.

The Iranians may have regarded him as a potentially useful Pashtun card to have up their sleeve, but he has turned out to be too much of a wild card for them.

His vocal opposition both to the Americans and to the new interim authority in Kabul was an embarrassment to the Iranian government, which has thrown its official weight behind the Karzai administration.

If Tehran is seeking visible ways of rebutting accusations that it has been meddling in Afghan affairs and undermining the Kabul government, shutting down Mr Hekmatyar is as good a way of doing that as any.

The BBC's Jim Muir
"A gesture of support for Kabul, not Washington"
See also:

10 Feb 02 | Middle East
Iran acts against Kabul opponent
10 Feb 02 | South Asia
Afghan arrests over dead journalists
10 Feb 02 | Middle East
Khatami urges mass anti-US protests
26 Jan 02 | Middle East
Iran backs Afghan peace
10 Feb 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
Iran's influence shows in Herat
26 Oct 01 | South Asia
Exiled warlord 'in talks with Taleban'
19 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan powerbrokers: Who's who
07 Feb 02 | Middle East
Iran warns US against attack
06 Feb 02 | Americas
Analysis: The 'axis of evil' debate
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