A Jihadi Emissary Visits Whitechapel

This is a guest post by habibi

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), not least because of HP coverage of Azad Ali, one of the Islamist group’s extremist bloggers.

Let’s take a look at another IFE story.  Last Thursday, an IFE event on Afghanistan was held at the London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel.  The speaker, presented as such on the IFE web site, was Ghairat Baheer, the son-in-law of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

In a crowded field, Hekmatyar stands out as one of Afghanistan’s most vicious warlords.  It’s a life’s work.  He started on Islamist horrors early on, as a student at Kabul University in the 1970s:

People who were at the university at the time say they remember Mr. Hekmatyar’s followers throwing acid at women students who did not wear veils, and even shooting at the legs of women who were wearing skirts rather than traditional garb

In our times, his Sunni fundamentalist group, Hezb-e-Islami, is independent but has been linked to the Taleban in recent years.  In fact, Ghairat Baheer himself helped form the links back in 2001:

Ghairat was based in Islamabad and looked after the HIA’s [Hezb-e-Islami’s] political wing, as well as being its spokesperson. On behalf of Hekmatyar, he signed an accord with the Taliban to fight against the impending US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

This was not a very wise move.  In 2002 Baheer was arrested by Pakistan and passed into US custody in Afghanistan.  There will be more on him later.

Nor did Hekmatyar fare much better in 2002.  Facing pressure from the US and the new Afghan government, Tehran decided to expel him from Iran, where he had taken refuge in 1996 after the Taleban took over most of Afghanistan.  He returned to Afghanistan, a hunted man wanted by the US and Afghan governments.

Bowed but not beaten, he and his group appear to have regathered considerable strength while underground.  Last year the Washington Post noted

With several Afghan refugee camps firmly under his control in northwest Pakistan, Hekmatyar has expanded his political and military capabilities. U.S. and Afghan officials have said that it is from those camps that Hekmatyar has launched a series of attacks on coalition troops and Afghan government targets across the border.

Apparently those “government targets” include Hamid Karzai.  According to media reports, the group claimed responsibility for an attempted assassination of the Afghan president in Kabul in April 2008.

Gaza, naturally, is another reason to be belligerent.  Earlier this month Hekmatyar made this call:

“Afghans must attack American troops present in Afghanistan in support of the Palestinians in Gaza,” said Hekmatyar in a message in Pashto language, broadcast by Arab network al-Arabiya.

“We ask the Afghan mujahadeen to line up alongside their Palestinian brothers as a way of rallying opposition to the Americans who are allies of Israel. This war, which we are helping, is not just a war by Tel Aviv, but rather a new American war against Islam,” said Hekmatyar.

Now bluster is not his only shtick.  Hekmatyar can play threateningly coy too, as well he should while holding the “wild card” Afghan analysts often cite.  Here he is in the Post article of 2008: 

“We don’t have any kind of link with al-Qaeda, Afghan or Pakistani Taliban,” Hekmatyar said. “However, we do respect all those who are involved in fighting in Pakistan, Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world against the United States and the enemies of Islam.”

Note the options he holds open there.  No wonder: he has destructive power, and at the right political price, Karzai’s government would like to take him out of the Afghan war, reducing the threats it faces and adding to pressure on the Taleban and al Qaeda.  Haggling has not yet lead to a deal, but it may one day.

This is where Ghairat Baheer comes back in.  After six years of imprisonment, last spring the Afghan government decided to release him, reportedly as part of reconciliation efforts.  According to this report, he is now in Europe on something of a “foreign troops out” political mission.  He is not estranged from Hekmatyar.  On the contrary – he notes that he is “determined to persist on Hekmatyar’s political framework”.

Well, the Afghan government faces dreadful choices, right up to doing deals with would-be assassins of its leaders. 

The Islamic Forum of Europe’s London operation, by contrast, faces no such dilemmas.  So why has it provided a platform and promotion to the messenger of a vicious and hateful Afghan warlord, who calls for attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan and “respects” the Taleban and al Qaeda?