‘Hek­mat­yar’s re­turn strength­ens Afghan pres­i­dent’s hands’

For­mer war­lord read­ies for par­tic­i­pa­tion in up­com­ing par­lia­men­tary polls

Arab News - - INTERNATIONAL - SAYED SALAHUDDIN

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 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 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 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 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.”

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.

Afghan war­lord Gul­bud­din Hek­mat­yar speaks to sup­port­ers in Jalal­abad prov­ince, Afghanistan on April 30. (Reuters)

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