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Tuesday, 18 September, 2001, 20:21 GMT 21:21 UK
Anti-Taleban faction sides with Bin Laden
Refugees enter Pakistan after fleeing Kandahar
Terrified Afghans are fleeing in case the US attacks
By Jim Muir in Tehran

A leading figure in Afghanistan's anti-Taleban opposition, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has said the Americans are wrong to blame Osama Bin Laden for the attacks in New York and Washington.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Hekmatyar said the Americans had no right to attack Afghanistan.


If nothing else, Mr Hekmatyar's warning served as a reminder of the dangerous vacuum and likely chaos that would ensue if the Taleban regime were to be driven out

He warned that if they did, his and other groups would fight against them.

Mr Hekmatyar and his Hizb-e Eslami party were major players in the struggle to end the Soviet occupation of the country and in the subsequent power struggle between rival Afghan factions before the Taleban practically swept the board in the mid-1990s.

Since then he has been based in Iran, though he retains some pockets of influence in northern Afghanistan.

National loyalty first

But now, far from cheering the Americans on against the Taleban, he says Washington is making a big mistake.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Hekmatyar: A US occupation would unify the fragmented opposition
Mr Hekmatyar said he had no reason not to believe Bin Laden's denial of involvement in the New York and Washington attacks.

He said the Americans had no justification for an attack on Afghanistan in which the Afghan people would be the victims.

He made it clear that if the Americans staged an invasion and tried to install a friendly regime, his and other groups would return to Afghanistan and oppose them.

New unity

"I think if Afghanistan is attacked by America, then our nation has no other choice but to defend their country... The whole of our nation will stand against the attack on their country and... we will go and join our nation," Mr Hekmatyar said.

The Afghan opposition is notoriously fragmented.

But Mr Hekmatyar said that if the Americans staged a major operation, as he believed they would, they would succeed in uniting the Afghan factions against them in the same way as the Soviets did.

And he believed that the US would be no more successful than the Soviets were in imposing their will on the country.

If nothing else, Mr Hekmatyar's warning served as a reminder of the dangerous vacuum and likely chaos that would ensue if the Taleban regime were to be driven out.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jim Muir
"He says they are making a big mistake"
Afghan anti-Taleban politician Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
"The whole of our nation will stand against the attack on their country"
The BBC's Catherine Davis in Afghanistan
"People support an attack on Taleban targets"
See also:

17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's tough choice
12 Sep 01 | South Asia
Taleban tense as US seeks targets
14 Sep 01 | Americas
Bin Laden's command structure
11 Sep 01 | South Asia
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
18 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Blair gives Taleban firm warning
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