After months of negotiation between Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami (HIG) and the Afghan National Unity Government (NUG), Hekmatyar finally signed on to the peace deal with Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani from an unknown location through a live video conference last month. There were mixed reactions from the public, with many furiously against the deal, calling Hekmatyar the “Butcher of Kabul” for his killing of thousands of Afghans during the civil war while others celebrated and called him the “Hero of Peace,” praising Ghani for the achievement that the former president could not succeed.
Notwithstanding his notorious past record, the deal was welcomed by the international community. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaking at the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan last week supported the deal and said that the recent peace deal between the Afghan government and HIG could be a model for reconciliation with the Taliban and the group should look at it as a path toward finding an honorable end to the conflict in Afghanistan.
Nonetheless, Hekmatyar’s return can’t bring peace to the war-torn country since HIG has not been the primary anti-government group in recent years. The Taliban continue to operate the overwhelming majority of insurgents and have overrun parts of the country, but the deal may reunite the fragmented Hezb-i-Islami of Afghanistan (HIA), which was once solely led by Hekmatyar and was a prominent political and military party that played a significant role in defeating the Soviet Union and later got engaged in the civil war in Afghanistan. HIG’s strength compared to the Taliban is that it has members within the Afghan government and also in the Afghan parliament. Hekmatyar may exploit their power and resources to lead HIA to prepare and dominate the political arena in the next parliamentary and presidential elections.
On the other hand, to prevent HIA winning on the political front in the future, the Taliban might consider changing its strict stand against talks and may come to the negotiation table with the NUG since the recent peace deal may impact the morale of Taliban commanders on the battlefield (they were already discouraged with the killing of their late leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour). Therefore, the Taliban leadership not only may consider continuing their brutal insurgencies, but also observes the appropriate time and venue to enter into a peace deal with the Afghan government from a position of strength. It has been reported that Mullah Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, has traveled to Qatar to discuss matters with Taliban officials in Doha regarding the HIG deal.
The HIG and the Taliban having had a common position – fighting against the Afghan government and the international forces in Afghanistan. They always watched each other initiating talk with the government of Afghanistan. The opening of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar left Hekmatyar isolated and made him think how to enter into negotiation with the government of Afghanistan. Likewise, the recent peace deal of HIG may have a relatively similar impact on the Taliban to consider re-launching peaceful negotiation with the NUG and stop their brutal insurgencies.
The deal with HIG has its advantages and drawbacks. It is a breakthrough for the NUG, which finalized the peace deal with HIG ahead of the Brussels Conference. HIG agreed to curb its insurgency and cut ties with Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks, which to some extent will reduce violence in Afghanistan. Moreover, the deal also showed the NUG’s political will for peaceful negotiation with anti-government groups without any foreign mediator. The legitimacy of the Afghan government has thus been further empowered.
Moreover, the peace deal will enable the NUG to disarm and convert the HIG from a military opposition to a political opposition party. But with its current capacity, it will be difficult for the NUG to successfully disarm the HIG while reports show that the members of other major political parties namely Jamiat-e-Islami, Junbish-e-Milli, Etehad-Islami, and Hezb-e-Wahdat are also armed – they were either not properly disarmed through the Afghan Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program (DDR), or they have been re-armed in the past years. Therefore, considering the initiation of another DDR program requires funding and capacity, which the NUG does not have. Thus, as Hekmatyar will enter the realm of politics with his armed supporters in different provinces, it is likely that political tensions might erupt between the HIG and other major political parties trying to gain power, which might destabilize parts of the country in future.
Moreover, the NUG is already struggling in terms of its internal power-sharing and distribution between the supporters of President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The peace deal might further increase their disputes as they have to accommodate the HIG in the government by further splitting their shares in the deal brokered by the U.S. secretary of state in 2014.
The compromise of further sharing key government positions will undermine the efficiency of the NUG, which has been one of the challenges over the past two years that caused major delay in the implementation of a reform agenda and meeting the recommendations and benchmarks set by the international donor community. At the Brussels Conference, the international community pledged $15.2 billion in support for Afghanistan’s development over the next four years, but the funding is subject to conditions. As a result, the NUG needs qualified technocrats and reformist to meet the conditions availing the funding.
The other drawbacks of the deal could be the lack of assurances as to whether the HIG will comply with the terms of the agreement after Hekmatyar’s supporters are released from prison and detention centers and their names are removed from the UN blacklist. To ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan, Ghani had to extend the olive branch to Hekmatyar and is willing to do the same with the Taliban if they put an end to their brutal insurgencies and accept the Afghan Constitution.
Najibullah Noorzai is a researcher and development analyst. He worked for the European Union and the United Nations in the areas of rule of law, counter-narcotics, and anti-corruption in Afghanistan. He tweets @NajNoorzai.
Hashim Wahdatyar is a political analyst based in Washington D.C. He is a former spokesperson and Senior Programme Officer for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan (UNODC). He tweets @hashimwahdat.