night letters gulbuddin hekmatyar

Written by Asadullah Khan Wazir 11:47 am Book Reviews, Published Content

Night Letters: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Afghan Islamists Who Changed the World

In their book, Night Letters, Chris Sands and Fazelminallah Qazizai venture together into the historical depths of Afghanistan. They relate a fair account of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his political ambitions, notably the Islamic Movement.
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Asadullah Khan Wazir is a freelance contributor and broadcast journalist.

Night Letters

The prolonged turmoil in Afghanistan compels one to historically examine the sowed seeds of the Afghan conflict and its political actors. The book ‘Night Letters’ has done a tremendous job of analyzing the rise of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Afghan Islamists. Written by Chris Sands and Fazelminallah Qazizai, it is a thrilling source to dive deep into the historical Afghan conflict.

Their stupendous work reflects their grip on literature and the Afghan conflict; it covers the era from the 1960s to 2017. The authors underlined how the communists and the right-wing group fought against the monarchy and came head-to-head in a bloody civil war. Both wings were formulated by the students, and their teachers played a significant role in the indoctrination of radical ideas among students.

On one hand, Professor Ghulam Muhammad Niazi used his influence to sell and spread the dreams and doctrines of the Muslim brotherhood of Hassan Al Banna and Sayyid Qutb. The targets for this indoctrination were the students of Kabul University. On the other hand, Najib, Babrak Kamal and Suleman Laiq were busy gathering the left-wing students under the banner of Khalq and Parcham factions to spread out communism.

Polarization of the People of Afghanistan

The continuous small rifts and ideological differences were widening the fault lines which eventually led to fighting in Zarnegar Park and at Kabul University. Both the communist faction and the Muslim youth were stream-lining strategies to oust the last monarch, Zahir Shah, who was later toppled from his throne by Daud’s coup d’etat with the help of army generals in 1973.

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This very coup d’etat motivated the Islamic movement to overthrow Daud’s regime. However, due to the secret talks between the Islamic movement’s members and Daud’s regime, the coup of the Islamic movement failed. The enraged Muslim youth leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar then decided to form his own party, Hizb-e-Islami.

Since the formation of Hizb-e-Islami, the world has been shocked by the waves of radical Islam. The 1978 Saur coup by communists gave momentum to the anti-government movement. The communist government was economically and militarily supported by the USSR. Soviet Union’s troops wreaked havoc in Afghanistan, which encouraged the local Afghans to join the Hizbs abd Jamiat party to expel the foreign troops.

Political Assassinations

For this very reason, the Hizbis abd Islamic militants were supported by Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). In 1979, Nur Muhammad Tarakai, the then President of Afghanistan, was assassinated. The vicious cycle of power competition in Afghanistan failed to pave a way to make a consensus among different Afghan factions.

Nur Muhammad Tarakai’s successor, Hafizullah Amin, was assassinated with the covert help of the USSR. Nevertheless, Afghan Mujahideen were also divided into different groups: Hizb-e-Islami led by Hekmatyar, Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, and Jamiat led by Rabbani. The aforementioned groups had one agenda: to get hold of the government.

Night Letters narrates that under the regime of President Mohammad Najibullah, Prime Minister Babrak Kamal went for the detention of Hizbis and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Several mujahideen were killed and captured during Najib’s regime. The denting of Babrak Kamal’s government forced Babrak Kamal to reconcile with mujahideen in general and with Hizb particularly.

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However, the Northern Alliance and Hizb were in contact with the government separately which broke the unity of mujahideen. Night Letters points that what motivated Hizb’s leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was his global jihad agenda that had spread across continents. He was not only hosting foreign fighters but was also keenly interested in establishing an Islamic caliphate. However, that dream of his never materialized because of many rivals.

A New Day

What intensified the already vicious conflict was the collapse of Babrak Kamal’s government. His determination of developing a communist Afghanistan faded away and a new government of Mujahideen was formed with Pakistan’s help. Sibghatullah Mojadidi was an interim President of Afghanistan. The new government included Burhanuddin Rabbani as President and Ustad Abdul Sabir Farid as the Prime Minister.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmad Shah Masoud were given ministerial posts. After a very short period of time, Abdul Sabir Farid was succeeded by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as the Prime Minister. Despite the efforts to make a unified government, the government’s high ranks could not sideline their enmity with each other. Eventually, they jumped to a civil war that continues to bring deleterious consequences for Afghanistan.

During the civil war among mujahideen, Mullah Omar appeared on the horizon and within no time, he became a popular political actor. The war-torn and badly affected people of Afghanistan supported Mullah Omar to get some relief. Mullah Omar initially attacked Hizbis and pushed Hekmatyar out of Kabul into Iran. The lethal attacks of Islamist radicals collapsed the mujahideen government in no time and occupied the throne of Kabul. Mullah Omar was the emir of the Islamic emirate.

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It Takes Two to Tango

Although Islamists radicals were in a clash with Hizbis, the attacks on America by Al Qaeda’s leader Osama Bin Laden gave Hekmatyar a chance to come to better terms with the Taliban. Night Letters reveals that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was one of the few who was told about 9/11 by Osama Bin Laden.

Osama Bin Laden needed the help of Hekmatyar to flee from Afghanistan. After the US invasion of Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden moved from Kabul to Jalalabad, to Tora Bora and then to Kunar. Hekmatyar also joined him in Tora Bora afterwards. Hekmatyar’s presence in front of the public forced Osama and Zawahiri to move to Pakistan. Their safe travel to Pakistan was also organized by Hizb-e-Islami.

Those who have an interest in politics and international relations should read this book, to understand the complex dynamics of Afghanistan. This book presents lucid lessons for the politically literate on how personal animosity, self-interests and greed for power can wreak havoc in a state. One can also extract meaningful ideas and bare facts about Afghan society from this insightful book.


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