A triangle of militants regroups in Afghanistan
Intelligence officials say Al Qaeda and Taliban are tied to a radical Islamist party.
Sana Hamid has come to Pakistan to recruit a few good terrorists.Skip to next paragraph
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Not just anyone will do. There are plenty of people in this part of Pakistan who would love to fight American forces in Afghanistan. But Mr. Hamid and his Afghan guerrilla leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, need people with skills that will mesh with their allies - the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
"We are trying to regroup into a force like we were during Afghan Jihad (the Soviet-Afghan war)," says Hamid, a former information official for his party, the Hizb-i Islami. He spoke to the Monitor on condition that neither his location nor his real name would be disclosed.
For months, Afghan and US intelligence officials have warned about a regrouping of Al Qaeda and the Taliban on both sides of the porous Afghan-Pakistani border. More ominous still for the war in Afghanistan is the reported alliance of America's enemies with old friends from the Soviet war, namely the radical Islamist party Hizb-i Islami. Some leaflets signed by Hizb and Taliban leaders have even called on Muslims to join an all-out jihad or holy struggle against American forces timed to the beginning of America's war in Iraq.
"We do not need military training, as even an eight- and 10-year old boy knows how to use a Kalashnikov," Hamid says. "We have suicide squads of Al Qaeda. They are like walking bombs, and they are our biggest weapons against Americans in Afghanistan."
While signs of this regrouping are mostly limited to a scattering of printed leaflets and a few fiery speeches in local mosques, Afghan officials say an alliance of these three groups may present the greatest security challenge to the fragile transitional government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and to the American forces who remain behind to keep the peace.
"There is a slow return of the evil triangle, made up of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Hizb-i Islami, and at the top of this triangle is the man who is the shrewdest, and that is Hekmatyar," says Masood Khalili, the Afghan ambassador to India in New Delhi. "These elements think that America will be distracted by the war in Iraq, and that the US will not stay in Afghanistan. This is not true, I think. But if we do lose the Afghanistan battle, we will lose the war against the terrorists."
While the activities of Hizb are known in just about every mosque or bazaar along the Afghan border, most Hizb supporters remain quite out of sight. And most prominent Hizb leaders have gone underground as a result of a Pakistani crackdown on radical Islamist groups.
One top leader, Qutbuddin Hilal, a former second in command under Mr. Hekmatyar, now lives under virtual house arrest in Hayatabad, a suburb of Peshawar. Pakistani authorities say the detention is for Mr. Hilal's protection: Hilal recently broke with Hekmatyar to back the Karzai government.
But the Hizb public presence is not completely erased.