Hekmatyar to “reconcile” with Afghanistan?
Summary: Reports that marginalised war criminal and insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is to reconcile with the government might offer interesting possibilities for peace in Afghanistan. Hekmatyar is not to be trusted and the deal could fall through now or later. But the long-term goal of reconciling the Taliban in the same fashion is too tempting to pass up.
Militant guerrilla leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, looks closer than ever to accepting a peace agreement with the Afghan government on behalf of his rebel group of fighters, Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG). Press reporting has noted a draft agreement that would give Hekmatyar some form of immunity from prosecution from previous actions (which would include an extensive range war crimes such as the shelling of Kabul in the 1990s, and a host of terrorist and suicide bomb attacks). HIG have been linked to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and, even as recently as last year, Hekmatyar was declaring his support for Islamic State. Hekmatyar appears to be prepared to give up one of the key tenets of his continued resistance: that international military forces must leave Afghanistan before he would enter talks. The deal would presumably involve removing HIG from terrorism black lists and recognition of HIG as a political party.
Analysis and Outlook
A brief reminder…
[in 1992 and 1993]…As shown in this report, Hezb-e Islami forces committed grave violations of international humanitarian law by intentionally targeting civilians and civilian areas for attack, or indiscriminately attacking areas in Kabul without distinguishing between civilian areas and military targets. Accounts and information presented in sections III (A) and III (B) show regular and repeated artillery strikes on civilian areas. Accounts and information in those sections also show that Hezb-e Islami regularly and repeatedly fired rockets into Kabul. As shown in those sections, Hezb-e Islami forces repeatedly used artillery and rockets in a manner suggesting that they were either intentionally targeting civilian sites, failing to aim at military objectives (with respect to artillery guns), or treating the whole city as one unified military target—any and all of which can amount to war crimes.
Hezb-e Islami’s methods of attack and use of weapons systems demonstrate the abuses described above. With respect to artillery attacks, there was specific evidence in section III (A) above that Hezb-e Islami had the capacity to aim artillery at military targets, but purposefully or recklessly fired artillery at civilian objects instead, in violation of international humanitarian law. In numerous cases documented in this report, Hezb-e Islami forces fired artillery at civilian areas without clear military objectives, suggesting that they were either purposely targeting such areas, or recklessly aiming at Kabul as a whole.
As noted in Section III (A) above, Hekmatyar’s forces also often used BM-40, BM-22, BM-12 rocket launchers and Sakr Soviet-made rockets in their attacks on Kabul. Such rocket systems are not designed for accuracy in close combat: they cannot be adequately aimed within urban settings or made to distinguish between military targets and civilian objects. The very use of such rocket systems within Kabul may have been in violation of international humanitarian law prohibitions on the use of inherently indiscriminate weapons.
As noted above, there is testimony in sections III (A) and III (B) that suggests that Hezb-e Islami and Hekmatyar were deliberately targeting the city of Kabul as a whole entity, to terrorize and kill civilians.
In addition, Hezb-e Islami, along with the other factions discussed in this report, are implicated in murders, pillage, and looting in violation of international humanitarian law. Hekmatyar and his commanders’ failure to stop or prevent the abuses could make them responsible as a matter of command responsibility.
The head of Hezb-e Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is centrally implicated in all of the crimes noted above. Hekmatyar was unambiguously the sole military and political leader of Hezb-e Islami, the Firqa Sama, and the Lashkar-e Isar (Army of Sacrifice), and was in command of Hezb-e Islami forces during its attacks on Kabul. Hekmatyar was the leader of Hezb-e Islami through the 1980s, and met regularly with Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officials, and even with American politicians who visited Pakistan in the 1980s. Several mediators negotiated with Hekmatyar on peace initiatives in 1992 and 1993, as the head of Hezb-e Islami, and journalists repeatedly met with Hekmatyer in his capacity as the leader of Hezb-e Islami forces in the same period…
Those of us who have been analysing Afghanistan for over ten years will be experiencing some very mixed emotions over this new twist in the story of this highly suspect, opportunist and fundamentalist warlord. Amply supplied with weapons by Pakistan (and the US) in the 1980s, when he wasn’t fighting the Soviets, he was attacking fellow Mujahideen groups to capture their weapons. Hekmatyar has flirted with a range of factions, including Osama Bin Laden, but seemingly interested only in his own personal quest for power. One minute he was cooperating with the Taliban, next he was fighting them. He has suggested peace talks in the past and then renounced them and promised continued and indefinite jihad. Last year he announced his support for Islamic State. HIG has been a marginal yet still violent and problematic part of the wider Taliban-led insurgency for many years, based primarily in eastern Afghanistan. A large part of Hezb-e Islami long ago rejected Hekmatyar and are now part of the political system.
And yet, if it is possible that HIG can be brought in, it offers a tantalising glimpse of what might conceivably happen in a few year’s time in relation to the Taliban and how a process might work. This is why Mr Ghani appears to be prepared to swallow an extremely bitter pill and seek, if not to work with Hekmatyar, at least to symbolically remove him from the fight and shine a light on the path for Taliban peace talks.
On balance, I think this is the right thing to try. Many things can go wrong. The deal could easily fall apart, before, during or after signing. Many factions, individuals and the population at large will be extremely displeased about an immunity deal offered to such a serial human rights violator. An attack on Hekmatyar could easily derail things. It is possible that, once Hekmatyar has achieved his symbolic “reconciliation” he might slip off to some retirement home for war criminals in the Gulf. It might not be so easy to simply remove him from the list of global terrorists. But we should watch carefully: Hekmatyar is not to be trusted and I struggle to see him upholding the Constitution, renouncing violence and tolerating foreigners for long (if at all). Also keep careful note of what the Taliban say and do – although they are like to denounce or ignore this new Hekmatyar development and claim “business as usual” for their own insurgency, this might be a very divisive issue behind the scenes for them at a time when the Taliban are not exactly united.