Night Letters

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Afghan Islamists Who Changed the World

October 2019 9781787381964 508pp
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In 1969, several young men met on a rainy night in Kabul to form an Islamist student group. Their aim was laid out in a simple typewritten statement: to halt the spread of Soviet and American influence in Afghanistan. They went on to change the world.

Night Letters tells the extraordinary story of the group’s most notorious member, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the guerrilla organisation he came to lead, Hizb-e Islami. By the late 1980s, tens of thousands were drawn to Hekmatyar’s vision of a radical Islamic state that would sow unrest from Kashmir to Jerusalem. His doctrine of violent global jihad culminated in 9/11 and the birth of ISIS, yet he never achieved his dream of ruling Afghanistan. The peace deal he signed with Kabul in 2016 was yet another controversial twist in an astonishing life.

Sands and Qazizai delve into the secret history of Hekmatyar and Hizb-e Islami: their wars against Russian and American troops, and their bloody and bitter feuds with domestic enemies. Based on hundreds of exclusive interviews carried out across the region and beyond, this is the definitive account of the most important, yet poorly understood, international Islamist movement of the last fifty years.


‘An important addition to the literature on Afghan studies, global jihad and the relationship between religion and resistance … The authors deserve appreciation for their well-written, painstaking and meticulous research.’ — Muslim World Book Review

‘In addition to presenting an extraordinarily detailed, comprehensive biography of Afghan Islamist and politician Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, British journalist Sands and Afghan journalist Qazizai have constructed the most thorough and compelling account available on more than 50 years of domestic political struggle in Afghanistan.’ CHOICE

‘An immensely impressive piece of research [combining] Sand’s literary skills and nearly a decade of journalism in Afghanistan with Qazizai’s in-depth knowledge of Afghanistan, connections and understanding of Islamic law.’ Al-Araby

Night Letters is a treasure trove of political and military detail. For those involved with Afghanistan it is a must read. … Sands and Qazizai have produced one of the most thorough histories of modern Afghanistan.’ Asian Affairs

‘A riveting read with new revelations about Afghanistan’s torturous past, which has changed the course of history. This is history at its best, with compelling storytelling and, at times, chilling detail.’ Lyse Doucet, Chief International Correspondent and Senior Presenter for BBC World News television and BBC World Service Radio

‘With the novelist’s eye for dramatic detail and the journalist’s unrelenting pursuit of facts, Night Letters is completely gripping from start to finish. This thrilling page-turner chronicles the life and impact of a key figure in modern Afghanistan and global jihadism. Essential reading for understanding today’s great game.’ Zia Haider Rahman, award-winning author of In the Light of What We Know

‘A critically important biography of one of the most iconic—and brutal—figures of the decades-old Afghan conflict. Piercingly relevant today, as Afghanistan once again confronts an uncertain chance for peace—or renewed civil war.’ – Patricia Gossman, Associate Asia Director, Human Rights Watch

Night Letters is a fascinating and deeply researched account of one of the least understood figures of modern jihadist militancy, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.’ — Peter Bergen, CNN, Vice-President of New America and author of The Man-Hunt: The Ten Year Search for bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad


Chris Sands is a British freelance journalist who has been working in Afghanistan since 2005. Based there permanently for nine years, he continues to travel to Kabul.

Fazelminallah Qazizai is an Afghan journalist with a degree in Islamic Law from Kabul University. He has always lived in Afghanistan.

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