Return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

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By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Up Front

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has returned to Afghanistan in April this year after an exile of 20 years. Mysteriously underground and presumably hiding in the rugged mountainous terrain of Pakistan, his return marked countless prior negotiations on his role in civil life, his rights and privileges.

He has been nicknamed as “ the butcher of Kabul” after killing thousands of people between 1992 to 1996 with rockets and artillery in the civil war. He also served as Afghanistan’s prime minister, an office he held for a brief period. With a sense of political opportunism, he now vows for reconciliation with the Taliban through dialogue.

Atleast 200 people welcomed him in the eastern Laghman province of Afghanistan, where he had been conducting meetings with his former party members lately. Common Afghans had mixed feelings about his return as posters of him and his party were seen torn on the streets.

Hekmatyar, a former anti-Soviet commander in the 1980’s, has called Taliban renegades as his ‘brothers’ and calls them to join the ‘caravan of peace’. With an ageing face, white beard and traditional black turban, he appeared in public rallies recently after striking a 25 point deal with the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last year in September. This peace accord marked his return to his country in April this year.

Supporters of Hekmatyar believe that his actions in the 1990s were taken in self-defense. His political party, Hezb e Islami, is known for deadly attacks on US forces since their invasion in 2001. 

Interestingly, now his name has been removed from UN list of active terrorists. He was also designated as a terrorist by US States department in 2003. These developments have given rise to new controversies. After all, what makes politicians and pivotal organisations endorse a former warlord for mediation in Afghan politics? It still remains unclear.

The Soviet backed socialist Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan fell in the civil war between 1989 to 1992. After that, intense violent years were witnessed in Afghanistan till 1997. Taliban had ousted Hekmatyar’s faction and other factions after their triumph of Kabul during that time. The developments paved the way for Taliban rule. In this time, it was believed that Hekmatyar first sought refuge in Iran right after the war.

His ideology is inspired from the Muslim Brotherhood and Maududi’s Jamaat-e-Islami. Calling the Islamic war against western forces as “unholy”, “in vain” and “illogical” in his speech in April this year, he at the same time endorses the doctrine of jehad and has anti western sentiments. This has made difficult to categorise Hekmatyar’s political rationale.

At a time when Taliban has criticised his return, his role of a collaborator can become reactionary. Maybe, his return will implicate further divisions in Afghan politics. President Ashraf Ghani seems to be playing a dangerous game in an attempt to mend the broken political and social fabric for democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the Afghan society.

How can a peace deal with a warlord by a civilian government ever make a moral sense? His faction of guerrilla fighters received the bulk of arms and money funneled in by the C.I.A. to defeat the Soviets, because he was seen as ruthless and close to Pakistani government and ISI, an individual tailor made for the American proxy war.

On the contrary, Ashraf Ghani sees Hekmatyar’s return as a first step toward taming the insurgency that has been ravaging Afghanistan for more than a decade. The deal also called for ­release of prisoners from his former militia. This is at a time when Ghani has lost public support and when Afghan economy is struggling and security concerns are rising. Civil war survivors and human rights groups have condemned his return.

Hekmatyar’s return also proves a major setback for regional leaders like Ahmad Zia Masoud and Ata Mohammad Noor, both representing Jamiat-e Islami, the major Tajik political party. This could propel them for an ethnic cause for the next Presidential election in 2019. It is because Hekmatyar has made it open to make alliance with Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) to form country’s largest political faction that could result as a deciding factor in 2019 elections.

Pashtun nationalist parties like Afghan Millat Party will also support Hekmatyar in next election in a country polarised politically on ethnicity. The resentment of Hekmatyar against the Hazara community is widely known in the public. Also, Uzbek leaders like Abdul Rashid Dostum, who helped Ashraf Ghani achieve a wide vote base in the last election, has recently accused the President for breaking the promises on government appointments for his party. For this breach, his political exile to Turkey by Ghani could make it easier for Hekmatyar to achieve major strides in the next election.

Council for Protection and Stability in Afghanistan, a coalition of jihadi parties, many of them close to Hamid Karzai, would also be more than happy to endorse Hekmatyar against Ashraf Ghani’s shaky National Unity Government, that has failed in addressing various constitutional issues and in initiating reforms by succumbing to domestic political pressures.

In other words, the next Afghan election won’t be for the common Afghans, it would rather be Pashtuns fighting against Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks to attain power. Hekmatyar could have a major role to play.

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