Hekmatyar to run in the Afghan election?
By Tim Foxley
Summary: AAN report on the possibility of unpleasant insurgent leader Hekmatyar running in the 2014 Afghan elections – change of heart or cynical repositioning?
All credit to the excellent Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul for having noted and written about the possibility of warlord and insurgent leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and his faction of Hezb-e Islami, running in the Afghan 2014 elections. It is something I hadn’t picked up on, but is potentially quite significant and certainly very interesting. I shall have a read and a think…
In a dramatic change of mind, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar recently announced that his Hezb-e Islami will participate in next year’s election to ‘defeat the enemy’ in the political arena, too. With this statement, he is relinquishing his original position that foreign troops must leave the country prior to any political accommodation between his party and the Afghan government. AAN’s researcher Borhan Osman has talked to Hezbis from Hekmatyar’s party and its splinter groups to learn why this shift in Hekmatyar’s approach has arisen now and what it means for the military and political landscape ahead of the upcoming election. He concludes that Hekmatyar, whose faction has been weakened both militarily and politically over the past twelve years, has no viable option but to gather the scattered former loyalists he once condemned for ‘surrendering to the Americans’ in order to lead them into the election. If Hekmatyar really were to stage a return to non-violent politics, it is in fact highly likely that this would unify the different groups and politicians who were once part of the original Hezb-e Islami. (With additional reporting by Thomas Ruttig.)
My own very brief thoughts: Hekmatyar is a nasty piece of work (and a former Prime Minister), responsible for much of the destruction of Kabul – many war crimes potentially to be laid at his door (I think the Americans still have him down as a terrorist and narrowly missed blasting him with a Hellfire rocket in 2002). He and his group have undertaken many attacks against Afghan and ISAF forces. Hekmatyar has been playing the system very carefully – judging what steps he needs to take to keep one step ahead of a drone strike – promising unending jihad and also hinting at the potential for talks. If he is now calculating that the ballot box is the best way to maximise his chances, it is most likely because he recognises his weak (and weakening) efforts at being an insurgency leader are not bringing him the power and influence that he believes he should have had all along. It is less likely to be because he has had a change of mind and now believes free and fair elections are the way ahead for a bright new Afghan future. Do. Not. Trust. Him.
My other, even less digested, thought, is whether this means anything for the Taliban. It would be nice to think that they might also now follow the lead of HIG and at least be considering some form of ballot box route. But the Taliban remain a powerful and credible insurgency force. Unlike Hezb-e Islami, which has, as AAN notes, a foot in the Afghan government anyway, Mullah Omar has remained true to his commitments thus far and rejects the “puppet” state. It will be interesting to see if the Taliban make any comment.