Ashraf Ghani’s deal with a hardline party is a positive step, but Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has a lot to deliver.
Aimal Faizi is an Afghan journalist and former spokesperson for former Afghan President Hamid Karzai from 2011-2014.
As an aide and one-time spokesperson to the former president of Afghanistan, many journalists and observers of Afghanistan ask me why the recent peace deal between the Afghan government and a hardline Afghan militant group, Hizb-e-Islami (HIG), wasn’t brokered under Hamid Karzai?
Is it a positive development for the country and will it have any impact on the security situation in Afghanistan?
While the negotiations for brokering the peace deal began years ago – under the previous Afghan government – its successful conclusion last month could only have happened with US acquiescence. I believe the signing of the peace pact and its timing has the full backing of Washington. It shows beyond doubt that the key to peace deals with Afghan armed groups is with the United States and Pakistan, where Afghan rebels are based.
However, the deal will not have any immediate impact on the security situation.Terrorist activities in Afghanistan originate from outside the country, therefore, the country will remain vulnerable. Terrorism will continue to be an enduring phenomenon for years to come.
It is imperative for HIG, without further ado, to vow to put differences and violent domestic rivalries with other Afghan political groups aside, accept the Afghan constitution and gain public trust.
The Afghan people should not hesitate in embracing and supporting the peace accord with HIG. Afghanistan is a nation which has bled for far too long; entire generations have known nothing but conflict.
The only way for the nation to heal now is through reconciliation and accepting each other. In war-torn Afghanistan, with so many pretexts for violence, Afghans must reject every excuse and reason for war.
|A screen showing the broadcast of Hekmatyar during a signing ceremony with the Afghan government at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan [Reuters]|
In the early 1990s, when Afghanistan spiralled into a brutal war between competing Mujahideen groups, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar helped rescue Hamid Karzai, then-deputy foreign minister, who was wounded in a rocket attack in Kabul – transporting him out of the country.
After becoming president, Karzai attempted on many occasions to woo Hekmatyar to abandon armed opposition, return and join the political process in the post-Taliban Afghanistan.
With the green light from Karzai, many members of Hizb-e-Islami joined the Afghan government.
Whether as cabinet ministers, governors or parliamentarians, they gradually occupied a significant number of key positions. It all happened under Karzai’s doctrine of “making Afghanistan, once again, the home of all Afghans”.
In May 2008, Karzai released Ghairat Baheer, Hekmatyar’s son-in-law, (who was detained by Pakistan in 2002 and was then in US detention for six years), from prison by a presidential decree.
|The very same delegation representing Hekmatyar, which negotiated and finalised the recent peace accord with Ashraf Ghani’s government last month, first began a series of contacts and meetings with Karzai’s government in 2010.|
After his release, Baheer, in charge of Hizb-e-Islami’s political affairs, became Hekmatyar’s chief negotiator with the United States and the Karzai government. He met US officials in and outside Afghanistan and remains the main point of contact in the present climate.
Peace talks with HIG
The very same delegation representing Hekmatyar, which finalised the recent peace accord with Ashraf Ghani’s government last month, first began a series of contacts and meetings with Karzai’s government in 2010.
Karzai “personally held peace talks” with the HIG’s envoys, receiving their delegation in his office. The messengers brought letters and demands from their leader to the Afghan president.
They questioned his policy and agreements with Washington, and the US military presence in Afghanistan, while also briefing the president about their own meetings with the Americans.
They discussed issues related to the region and the future of the Afghan political system. They would also meet Karzai’s national security adviser for a briefing on the Afghan-US strategic partnership agreement.
In a December 2011 meeting, after reading Hekmatyar’s new letter, Karzai told HIG’s representatives: “My term will be over in about two-and-a-half-years’ time.”
There will be “elections”, he’d said. Karzai wished he could see “Hekmatyar, Fahim [former Afghan vice president], Ashraf Ghani and others” standing for elections. You have a political “vision” but “you have lost many opportunities”, said Karzai. Hizb-e-Islami has a “future in a free democratic system” in Afghanistan. Let’s not waste more time, he added.
|Former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai [Reuters]|
Finally, after years of negotiations and Washington’s unwillingness to assist the peace process, Hekmatyar has the signed peace deal in hand now.
A spokesman for Hizb-e-Islami, Haroon Zarghoon, recently told the media that “America knows about the peace negotiations” between the Afghan government and Hizb-e-Islami, and Washington has its “interest” in it.
He added that soon all international sanctions on Hekmatyar and the Hizb-e-Islami would be removed. According to reports,HIG’s representatives will be visiting the US “soon”.
While it is a noteworthy achievement and a win-win development for both HIG and Ghani, to make the deal succeed, Hekmatyar and his party have a lot to deliver. Afghans have not forgotten the loss of their loved ones and all the bloodshed of the early 1990s.
Hekmatyar must put all domestic rivalries with other political groups (mainly Jamiat-e-Islami) aside for a worthy cause. HIG should work for the strengthening of national unity and Afghanistan’s relations with all regional powers.
Those political groups who fear the possible return of Hekmatyar to the country and echo the slogan of “justice” need not worry.
As eminent American scholar and Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin recently told me: “Afghanistan needs a comprehensive, impartial programme of justice, reconciliation, and peace that does not single out any one group as the worst criminals.”
While “many were responsible”, he said, pointing finger at one “would look like political manoeuvring, not justice”.