May 13, 2002



Eric Margolis believes Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's unsubstantiated claims that the CIA has been trying to kill him. As with so many of Margolis' stories, his latest column yammers on about how he "knew (insert name here) back in Peshawar/Swiss boy's school/from a dingy Tibetan bar" and uncritically accepts everything his old friend says:

I've known Hekmatyar since the mid-1980s, when we spent time together in Peshawar. Tall, heavy lidded, and extremely pale, the turbaned Pashtun leader looked like a saint from a Goya painting. Engineer Hekmatyar was the only mujahedin leader who did not come from a traditional tribal background: he was a raw and hated upstart who called for the end of tribalism and for the creation of an Islamic democracy.

Here's the other side of Margolis' friend he doesn't bother to share with his readers:

*Hekmatyar is generally the person people are talking about when they go on about pre-Taliban Afghan brutality. After being dissatisfied with only becoming prime minister when the Soviets left, it was Hekmatyar who levelled Kabul with rockets, killing 20,000. Without any evident twinges of conscience, Margolis writes, "In the early 1990s, Gulbadin [note the familiar use of first names -BR] served as prime minister of Afghanistan until it dissolved into civil war," without mentioning that it was Hekmatyar who started the war.

*Hekmatyar is, like Osama Bin Laden, a Wahabi Sunni Muslim. Like the Taliban's leaders he believes women should be banned from work and education. But to Margolis, that makes him an "advocate for Islamic democracy."

*Hekmatyar supporters are suspected in the occasional (and generally fruitless) attempts to attack the Americans and Canadians based in Kandahar; the Karzai government arrested 300 Hekmatyar supporters in April which it said were involved in planning assassinations against Karzai and the returning king.

*There is no doubt: Hekmatyar was the major leader of Afghanistan's extremist Muslims in the 1980s, and a major fighter against the Soviets. But his pathological desire to be sole ruler of Afghanistan at any cost, combined with his own subordinates' reputation for venality and cruelty, led not only to the creation of the more puritanical Taliban movement among his own people, but Pakistan's later switching of support away from the increasingly psychotic Hekmatyar to the Talibs as the lesser of two evils. But to Margolis, this makes him simply "an enemy of the Taliban."

Hekmatyar fled to Iran, hunted by... well, everybody in Afghanistan, really. The fact he is back in Afghanistan now and feeling safe enough to give interviews to Western journalists, and calling for the end of the Karzai government and the death of Americans, is perhaps the most worrisome development in that country since Bin Laden escaped Tora Bora.

Does that mean the CIA is in fact trying to assassinate him, as he claims? Unlikely... there's no evidence other than his say-so at this point. Margolis believed him, of course... he's always got time for the stories of his old frontier post drinking buddies, especially if they've called for the destruction of the U.S. recently. But his wilful hiding of Hekmatyar's true record from his readers is a crime of journalism.

POSTSCRIPT: I always find it amusing that Margolis, whose friends Hekmatyar and Bin Laden (if not Margolis himself) would clearly rejoice if Canadians fell in battle in Afghanistan tomorrow, is published by the strongly pro-military Sun tabloid chain. This isn't a minor Ted Rall type figure: the man is a major columnist in Canada, travelling in the highest social and political circles here. If they had existed back then, one wonders how would the Suns' many military readers have responded if the papers' major foreign affairs columnist in 1940 had filled pages glossing over Hitler as a "saint from a Goya painting."

Posted by BruceR at 11:02 AM



The preliminary armed forces report says the Canadians accidentally bombed by an F-16 did nothing wrong, but avoids drawing conclusions about what went wrong in the air. (Also: Good piece in the National Post explains the tangled loyalties behind the Baril inquiry.)

Posted by BruceR at 09:51 AM