the Peshawar Seven
by Adam K. East
Most of the Islamic "fundamentalist" parties that were the beneficiaries of the aid for the Afghan War against the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan, were actually in existence years before the Red Army marched across the Oxus River.
The better educated of these leaders received their Islamist training at the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, where they were imbued with the idea of "Pan-Islamicism," as opposed to the concept of the nation-state. In the 1970s, these Islamic parties were in the opposition. But in 1973, violent destabilizing operations began in Afghanistan, after President Daud ousted his cousin King Zahir Shah. As a Pushtun nationalist, Daud wanted the detachment from Pakistan of the North West Frontier Province, which the British had cut off from Afghanistan in 1893.
To counter the pro-Pushtunistan activities coming from Kabul, the Pakistan government, then under Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, sought the help of the Afghan "Islamist" opponents of Daud, who accepted the British-drawn Durand Line dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan. With funding provided from Pakistan, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Rabbani Khalis, Ahmad Shah Masood, and others led several "uprisings" in various parts of the country in 1974. The uprisings failed, and were followed by a brutal government crackdown, forcing many of the groups to flee to Pakistan.
In Pakistan, Bhutto allowed them to open up offices, and some were also provided military training by the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI). Saudi Arabia also provided funding for the groups.
Following the communist coup in 1978, the Peshawar-based groups were largely ignored, and found themselves in total disarray, until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. At this time, Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq handpicked the so-called "Peshawar Seven" groups—known by most Afghans as the "gang of seven"—who had served Pakistani interests in the past as the primary beneficiaries of funding and arms, to wage the war against the Soviet Union. Nationalist and other anti-communist leaders were deliberately ignored and sometimes even threatened with open hositility, in favor of Hekmatyar et al.
Here is a summary of the history and activities of the original "gang of seven":
- Hezb-i-Islami (Party of Islam). Led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1970s. As a student of engineering in Kabul University, he led most of the demonstrations in Kabul from 1967 to 1972. He himself was a Pushtun, and most of Hekmatyar's followers belonged to this ethnic group, the biggest in Afghanistan. Since he lacked aw classical Islamic education and opposed the traditional clergy, the ulama did not trust Hekmatyar. During the war, Hekmatyar's gang was responsible for the assassinations of a few Afghan nationalist figures in Peshawar.
Hekmatyar was strongly backed by Pakistan and also heavily funded by Saudi Arabia. Some of his income came from the poppy-growing regions in the south of the country, parts of which were under his control. (Heroin was vitually unknown to the region until 1979, when modern western laboratories were introduced to the area and farmers were encouraged to grow the cash crop, instead of wheat.)
Hekmatyar presently has a small army situated northwest of Kabul, but is no longer a major powerbroker, his operations having been superseded by the Taliban ("religious students"), a group which now controls two-thirds of the country.
- Jamiat-i-Islami (Islamic Society). Led by Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former professor and theologian at Kabul University, whose party consists primarily of ethnic Tajiks from the north of the country. His group is also dominated by Pan-Islamists and members of the Ikhwan. Rabbani, of Sufi Naqshbandi background, is a graduate of Al-Azhar University. Rabbani is currently President of Afghanistan, although his term expired late last year. Ahmad Shah Masood, also of Tajik background, is defense minister. Masood attended the French school in Kabul, and French aid agencies, particularly Doctors Without Borders, almost exclusively helped Masood's group. French propaganda also helped make Masood a household name in the West. Current backers of the Kabul government are Russia, Iran, and India.
- Itehad Islami (Islamic Unity). Islamic Unity is led by former university professor Abdul Rasul Sayaf, who received most of his support from radical elements in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and other Muslim countries. Sayaf converted to Saudi Wahabism at the onset of the war. The "University of Dawa and Jihad" was founded by Sayaf in 1985, in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. Sometimes referred to as the "Islamic Sandhurst," the university provides training for Islamic militants. In spring 1995, the university came under investigation by Pakistan authorities and the U.S. FBI, according to the Pakistan press, for reports that it was training Afghansi terrorists showing up in Asia and North Africa. Based in Kabul, Sayaf is still funded by Saudi Arabia.
- Hezbi-Islami (Party of Islam). Led by Maulavi Younas Khalis, an Islamic scholar, former teacher, and journalist. Originally with Hekmatyar, Khalis, being a traditional Islamist, split from the former in 1979. Khalis's group, primarily led by Haji Din Mohammad, led the military actions against the Soviet Army. Its major military commanders were: Abdul Haq, Jalaludin Haqani, Abdul Qadir, Qazi Amin Wardak, and Mullah Malang. With his group now barely in existence, Khalis is entirely removed from the political arena.
- Mahaz-i-Milli Islam (National Islamic Front of Afghanistan). The National Islamic Front is led by Pir Sayed Ahmad Gilani, leader of the powerful Qadiri Sufi sect. The group used to be strong in the Nangarhar province and surrounding areas. Gilani, who prior to the war was the representative in Kabul of the French auto company Peugeot, is a strong royalist. He was also associated with Lord Bethell of the London-based Radio Free Kabul. Gilani is now an insignificant figure in the overall political configuration.
- Jabha-i-Nijat-Milli (Afghan National Liberation Front). The Liberation Front is led by Sibgratullah Mojadidi, a religious leader from Kabul and royalist. Although his party had no significant military command, Mojadidi was frequently chosen as a compromise leader, and was the first interim President of Afghanistan following the collapse of the communist regime in 1992.
- Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami (Islamic Revolutionary Forces). Led by clergyman Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi, whose party's membership was derived from intellectuals. He is presently based in Peshawar.