The 'Butcher Of Kabul' Is Welcomed Back In Kabul : Parallels Warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar rained rockets on the Afghan capital in the 1990s and was responsible for thousands of deaths. The country's president welcomed him back Thursday in the interest of peace.

The 'Butcher Of Kabul' Is Welcomed Back In Kabul

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

One of Afghanistan's most notorious warlords returned to the country's capital, Kabul, today. He was praised by the president for heeding the call of peace. This is a big deal because the warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, used to fire rockets at the city and was known as the Butcher of Kabul. NPR's Greg Myre has reported on him, has actually met him and is here to tell us more. Hi there, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So tell us about Hekmatyar and what today means for this long war in Afghanistan.

MYRE: Well, Hekmatyar perhaps as much as anybody embodies this nearly four decades of war in Afghanistan. He first came to prominence very early on in the 1980s. His faction, Hezb-e Islami, was one of the seven fighting the Soviet Union and was considered the best fighters. The U.S. liked them. They seemed to get most of the money and the weapons and were very effective. Ronald Reagan called all these Mujahideen groups freedom fighters. Nobody seemed to care at that time about their radical Islamist statements and ideology.

He's played all sorts of role since then. He turned on the Americans, fought against them. The Americans labeled him a terrorist. He's been the prime minister in the Afghan government. He's fought against the Afghan government, had a complicated relationship with the Taliban.

And Afghans' president - Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, is hoping that this will show that he can bring rivals and enemies into the government, persuade them to stop fighting. And of course the biggest prize of all would be the Taliban.

MCEVERS: So is that why he was welcomed back, you know, and talked, you know - mentioned in terms of making peace?

MYRE: Ghani would certainly hope that he can bring in the Pashtuns, the biggest ethnic group - that it shows that Afghans are able to get past this horrible, horrible violence they've had for so long. So that's the point of it. If that actually happens, we'll have to see.

MCEVERS: And you dealt with Hekmatyar back in the '90s. What were the circumstances there?

MYRE: So an Associated Press reporter, John Jennings, got seized while he was covering some fighting. And he was taken by Hekmatyar's men. I was based in Pakistan with the AP at that time. I went to Kabul, drove across the front line, was able to set up a meeting with him. He claimed no knowledge of my colleague John Jennings, sent me on my way. But a few days later, his men tracked me down in Kabul and summoned me to come out there, and he released John unharmed.

MCEVERS: What do you think? I mean do you think that today's development does improve the prospect for peace in Afghanistan?

MYRE: By itself, no. I mean Hekmatyar has certainly faded. His group is not what it was. So I don't think by itself it's going to make a big difference. But there's a couple of important points here. I mean first of all, this is a very bitter pill to swallow for a lot of Kabul residents, particularly those who were there in the '90s when the rockets just came raining down out of the sky. In a sort of four-year period from '92 to '96, you had about 50,000 people killed, and Hekmatyar's group was the one that was most responsible for that. I mean he's literally walking on the red carpet at the presidential palace. There are posters of him all over the place in the city right now. So that's sort of tough to take for some Kabul residents.

But the other thing is, in a somewhat contradictory vein, this may be the way the Afghan war will end someday - not on the battlefield but with peace agreements and political deals, again, with groups like the Taliban and individuals like Hekmatyar who've committed terrible, terrible violence over the years.

MCEVERS: That's NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre who first reported from Afghanistan in 1993. Thank you so much.

MYRE: Thank you, Kelly.

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