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Rebel Leaders Struggle for Unity

Extremist leader Hekmatyar, who broke with other mujahideen, chills hopes for common front. AFGHANISTAN

By Sheila TefftSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / October 3, 1989


IN the fierce jostling for power among Afghan resistance fighters, Islamic fundamentalist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has emerged as an ambitious and ruthless contender. Head of one of the seven allied political parties based in this Pakistani border town, the 42-year-old leader has defied attempts by Americans and some Pakistanis to reduce his influence and share of foreign military aid.

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He has broken with the resistance movement's so-called interim government here. The July massacre of 30 Afghan guerrilla rivals by his Hezb-e-Islami (Islamic Party) has chilled hopes of a united political and military front against the Kabul regime of President Najibullah.

Despite growing questioning and divisions over military policy on Afghanistan, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan are still flooding the resistance fighters, or mujahideen, with weapons.

This supply effort is aimed at salvaging the interim government and forging unity for negotiating and fighting. In a season of military setback and embarrassment, the resistance has failed to budge the Soviet-armed troops of Najib (as the Afghan president is often called) from a major city.

However, many Afghans here now see as inevitable their country's slide into the sectarian fighting that has been a hallmark of life in the country for generations. In the scramble to grab territory and control, many Afghans and foreign observers recognize and even fear that Mr. Hekmatyar will play a key role.

``The war now is for control of Kabul,'' says a Western diplomat in Islamabad. ``Hekmatyar leads a powerful political organization that can be a tremendous nuisance for any government.''

In the months since the Feb. 15 final pullout of more than 100,000 Soviet troops, Hekmatyar has been a thorn in the side of the interim government and its foreign supporters.

Although acting as the interim government's foreign minister, he resisted efforts to broaden its appeal to include Shiite political parties based in Iran and supporters of the former Afghan king, Zahir Shah. His refusal to compromise is rooted in his long-standing favored status with Pakistani military Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which for years under the late President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq controlled Pakistan's Afghan policy.

Head of a small but well-organized group of Islamic conservatives, Hekmatyar has been based in Pakistan for more than 15 years. An engineer by training, he emerged in the tumultuous student politics of the 1960s at Kabul University, which produced many of the leaders of the resistance and the Najib regime.

Imprisoned for the murder of a left-wing student, Hekmatyar was released when Mohammad Daoud Khan overthrew his cousin, King Zahir Shah, in 1973. Hekmatyar then fled to Pakistan.

An Islamic militant who favors keeping Afghan women in purdah, Hekmatyar won the favor of Zia, who hoped to install a pro-Pakistan fundamentalist regime in Kabul. Hekmatyar reportedly has received 20 to 25 percent of American arms distributed by Pakistan's Army.

Those ties are now causing problems as some American and Pakistani officials are questioning the wisdom of years of support for Hekmatyar and his extremist politics. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who fears Hekmatyar's strong links to Pakistani fundamentalists, has been trying to reduce his influence and wrest Afghan policy control away from the military.

Pakistani observers say the Army is resisting both Bhutto and the Americans, who are pushing for a more equitable distribution of arms.