Hekmatyar’s return strengthens Afghan president’s hands, say analysts

Hekmatyar’s return strengthens Afghan president’s hands, say analysts
Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks to supporters in Jalalabad province, Afghanistan on April 30, 2017. (File photo by Reuters)
Updated 13 November 2017

Hekmatyar’s return strengthens Afghan president’s hands, say analysts

Hekmatyar’s return strengthens Afghan president’s hands, say analysts

KABUL: Afghan leader and former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has said that his party Hezb-i-Islami (HIA) is ready to participate in the upcoming parliamentary and district council polls.
Addressing the HIA central council gathering in Kabul last Friday, Hekmatyar said that the next year’s elections were important for the HIA and asked supporters to be ready for the democratic exercise.
“Going to the elections will end the conflict, strengthen peace and bring into being the government and the Parliament,” he said.
After fighting successive Afghan regimes in the past four decades, Hekmatyar returned to Kabul in May as part of a deal, which many Afghans believe, would lessen the complicated political disarray and help to reduce violence while, more importantly, persuading the Taliban to also come in from the cold.
Six months on, Afghan observers see the opposite and consider Hekmatyar as an ally of President Ashraf Ghani’s US-backed government – to pursue his short and long-term political goals and put pressure on the unruly regional strongmen in Afghanistan.
Part of the deal had envisaged that loyalists of his HIA would surrender arms to Kabul, routine attacks would subside, specifically in the leader’s birthplace, the northern city of Kunduz, neighboring Baghlan province, and areas near Kabul.
Hekmatyar, a controversial leader who is in his late 60s, has since produced a series of tirades, including in his day-one speech at the palace, targeting former rivals and the Taliban.
Hekmatyar has publicly given support to the Ghani regime, and rejected conducting snap elections and summoning Loya Jirga (Grand Tribal Assembly) as demanded by critics of the Ghani administration and some tribal strongmen as well as some government officials. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and some lawmakers have recently demanded the replacement of Ghani’s shaky government.
A few days ago, addressing a large gathering of his party members, Hekmatyar described the Afghan war as being “between two tribes.”
The country’s current and former leaders have reacted bitterly to these comments.
CEO Abdullah Abdullah, who is regarded as second in the hierarchy after Ghani, without naming Hekmatyar, posted on his Facebook page that the raising of such matters by Afghan politicians “in such a sensitive situation …will harm the public mind and the national interests.”
Rahmatullah Nabil, a former spy chief, said such comments must be avoided at all cost. Amrullah Saleh, who served before Nabil in the same position, also criticized Hekmatyar.
“He is now playing the ethnic card and even that has not gone well, even among some of his own supporters,” said Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst who has written widely on factional leaders, including Hekmatyar.
“With his return, Hekmatyar has only saved himself but has caused more trouble for Afghanistan,” he told the Arab News.
Mozhdah said both Ghani and the US were concerned about Karzai’s growing ties with Moscow and Iran, which will undermine Ghani’s position in the next year’s parliamentary elections and the 2019 presidential polls, in which Ghani is expected to again run for office.
“Ghani and the US fear that the growing closeness of Russia and Iran with Karzai will help him to bring over some of the Taliban on Karzai’s side, which will boost his position to either run for office himself or have his candidate of choice.”
He said Hekmatyar, who is known for making and breaking alliances, may run for the office himself, but the chances of him succeeding look slim as the majority of Afghans did not favor him, adding that the US, which he said had
the final say in Afghan affairs, does not approve of him.
Abdul Hameed Sofowat, a journalism professor in Balkh University, said Hekmatyar’s return had helped Ghani more than others and would boost Ghani’s position to secure votes in his favor in the next elections while other regional strongmen stand behind other candidates.
“Contrary to perceptions, with his return not only the fight has not subsided, but has increased even in areas where he has had support,” he told the Arab News.
Hamidullah Tokhi, a lawmaker who hails from Hekmatyar’s faction, told Arab News, “Hekmatyar wants unity in Afghanistan and transparent elections. If given the chance, Hekmatyar can play a constructive role in bringing peace to the country.”