Kabul hopes the possible peace deal with Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his return could serve as a template for ending the 15-year war with the Taliban. While the deal with his inactive militant group may be more symbolic, it could help President Ashraf Ghani to win over the Taliban through talks. However, many Afghans oppose the draft peace deal and Hekmatyar’s return over serious human rights violations he had committed during the 1996 civil war
The head of Afghanistan High Peace Council has signed the draft of a peace agreement with Hezb-i-Islami militant group delegation in Kabul on 18 May 2016.
If approved by the Hezb-i-Islami leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the peace agreement will pave the way for him to return home with “dignity” and give up armed struggle against the American-backed Afghan government and its international allied forces.
The Hezb-i-Islami delegation took the draft agreement on 19 May to Hekmatyar, who lives in an unknown location. According to sources close to the High Peace Council, the delegation will return the draft agreement to Kabul in two weeks.
The deal, which consists of three units and 26 articles, includes the removal of Hekmatyar and several of his close associates from the blacklists of the United Nations and U.S. State Department.
The State Department in 2003 included Hekmatyar on its designated terrorist list for participating in and supporting terrorist acts carried out by Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
“The United States is prepared to work with the government of Afghanistan and members of the United Nations Security Council in considering sanctions relief in the event that an agreement is concluded that provides for fulfilment of the necessary conditions,” a State Department official told the Voice of America recently.
“The United States does not have any pre-conditions for supporting an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process,” the official said.
For more than a decade, Hezb-i-Islami has been one of the main armed militant groups engaged in a fight against the Afghan government and its international allies. Several rounds of peace talks between the Afghan government and Hezb-i-Islami had failed in the past.
One of Hekmatyar’s most controversial demands, which led to the failure of peace talks, was the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan. However, the party has now dropped that demand.
Internal division, losing the support of its regional and international guarantors, and severe restriction on Hekmatyar, who is believed to be living in Pakistan, have affected the group’s ability to play any significant role in the current political and military developments in the country.
Hezb-i-Islami was increasingly sidelined during several rounds of peace talks with the Taliban who have been more engaged in the fight against the Afghan and international forces.
The peace agreement with Hezb-i-Islami has evoked mixed reaction. Many Afghans believe that reaching a peace agreement with Hezb-i-Islami will be a great step forward in helping to restore peace in the country.
On the other hand, a number of Afghans, including some human rights activists,have opposed the draft peace agreement and accused Hekmatyar of significant human rights violations, particularly during the 1996 civil war in Kabul.
Amrullah Saleh, former head of National Directorate of Security (NDS), has written on his Facebook without naming anyone: “Another disgrace is added to the history of this country. He (Hekmatyar) will either land by a Pakistani Air Forces plane at Kabul airport and his photo will become part of the black pages of history or he will be accompanied by the Pakistani army soldiers crossing the Torkham gate to the soil which is ready to swallow him and not honor him.”
But Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, while welcoming the peace agreement, said he is prepared to have a meal with Hekmatyar to serve the national interest of the country.
Meanwhile, Mohammad Khan, the First Deputy to the Chief Executive Officer, told a press conference in Kabul: “We are optimistic about the agreement and we strongly support it. This does not mean it has been finalized.”
Some Afghans believe that Hekmatyar, who is a charismatic speaker and a skilled writer, has the ability to re-organize and rejuvenate his party by launching robust outreach activities and gaining the support of the Afghan youth, especially in educational institutions in most parts of the country.
They say that once he reorganizes his party, Hekmatyar will be able to emerge as a strong opposition party leader and help his group gain more seats in the upcoming parliamentarian elections.
Hekmatyar, who has always remained very close to Pakistan, played a significant role in the fight against the Soviet Union war in the 1980s in Afghanistan. After the fall of the government of Dr. Najibullah in 1992, he became the prime minister but soon disassociated himself from the government and engaged in a deadly war against the government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani until 1996 when the Taliban took over Kabul.
After more than two months of rigorous talks between the High Peace Council and the Hezb-i-Islami delegation in Kabul, the current draft peace agreement was reached. The coming few weeks will prove if the Hezb-i-Islami of Afghanistan is genuinely committed to the peace process by changing its political course and agenda.
Ahmad Masoud has worked for more than a decade for national and international organizations, including the United Nations, in Asia, Africa and the United Kingdom. He holds an MBA degree and an Honours Diploma in Feature Writing and Freelance journalism and he usually writes on social, political and economic developments in Afghanistan.