KABUL, Afghanistan — As radical Muslim leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar issued a new ultimatum of destruction to Kabul's ruling coalition Sunday, a young coalition commander pointed to a trail of bloodstains at the lion pit in the Kabul Zoo that vividly illustrated the fears Hekmatyar has inspired that help fuel Afghanistan's crisis.
The bloodstains came from an almost biblical episode reported to have occurred at the height of Kabul's urban warfare last week, as the moderate coalition of Islamic rebels and former regime militiamen now in power drove Hekmatyar's fundamentalist forces out of the capital.
"Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami forces had taken the zoo," explained Mohammed Qasim, a young, moderate rebel commander, as he walked through the scene of Thursday's battle for the zoo.
"During the fighting, Hekmatyar's people caught two of our men. First, they shot them. Then, they dragged them here to the lion's den. And then, they fed them to the lion."
Qasim led his visitors over a bloodstained trail along the wall surrounding the pit and pointed angrily inside the lion's cave, where a large, although unidentifiable, bone was visible.
"The lion was hungry," Qasim said. "He had not eaten for 10 days. Now, do you see what these people are like?"
Such has been Hekmatyar's image of evil during 13 years of guerrilla war. The image has been carefully crafted--first by the American CIA, which backed the Islamic \o7 moujahedeen \f7 with $2 billion in arms for the rebels' successful crusade to drive out Soviet invaders in 1989, and then by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Muslim nations in their efforts to bring an Islamic government to power in Kabul.
And now, Hekmatyar's image hangs like the proverbial sword of Damocles over Kabul as an interim Islamic council--headed by moderate rebel leader Sibghatullah Mojaddidi and backed by a military partnership between moderate guerrilla factions and former regime militias--desperately tries to bring order to the capital.
Hekmatyar's latest threat to attack this city came Sunday during his first public comments since embattled President Najibullah's regime crumbled last month, paving the way for a mad race by the Islamic rebels to claim the capital more than a week ago.
Speaking to reporters who tracked him down in a military stronghold bristling with tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery and long-range rocket launchers just south of the capital, Hekmatyar insisted that he has only one demand: that former regime militias who have joined the \o7 moujahedeen \f7 coalition led by moderate rebel commander Ahmed Shah Masoud must leave the capital within the next few days.
"If they are not peacefully withdrawn from Kabul, then we will have to force them to withdraw," the gray-bearded fundamentalist leader said.
"I am able to bombard Kabul," he said, when asked what he will do in the likely event that the coalition's equally feared tribal militias do not withdraw.
"I am able to bombard any place in Kabul. We are able to fire any type of missile on any place in Kabul. We are able to prevent even a single airplane from flying. But we do not want to do this.
"If you have doubts, we can prove it."
In fact, Hekmatyar already has made the point, having shelled Kabul's airport and, errantly, several nearby residential neighborhoods in the days since the heavily armed coalition backing Mojaddidi drove Hekmatyar's fundamentalist forces out of the city's presidential palace and the many strategic positions they had occupied during the previous weekend's free-for-all.
Hekmatyar insisted that he supports the 51-member interim ruling council that named Mojaddidi to be leader, and a representative of Hekmatyar's party to be prime minister, under a compromise reached before the shooting started.
In a rambling rewrite of history, Hekmatyar insisted that a popular revolution in the streets of Kabul had overthrown the regime. Hekmatyar then asserted that Kabul is still in the hands of "a few regime generals" and militias opposed to Islamic rule and that all of them must leave before the rebels' \o7 jihad, \f7 or holy war, is complete. He concluded, "I can enter Kabul anytime, but I want to enter Kabul when there are no militias."
Clearly, Hekmatyar could do so only in the absence of the militia force that helped drive his tanks and men out of the capital last week, and he appears to be on the run, moving with his stronghold from place to place several times a day in a convoy of seven Land Cruisers.
It is also clear for the moment, at least, that Hekmatyar's latest ultimatum will go unheeded.
The principal target of his ultimatum is the powerful Jauzjan militia under the command of former regime Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostam, whose partnership-of-convenience with guerrilla commander Masoud and several key regime political leaders toppled Najibullah and later pushed Hekmatyar's forces out of the city.