Between Peace and Blood
President Ashraf Ghani could have trouble on his hands in releasing Hizb- e- Islami Afghanistan men though the move denotes that the Kabul leadership still holds the reins.
Some of Ashraf Ghani’s policies could be questionable.
By Dr. Raza Khan
Afghanistan has recently released 75 incarcerated members of Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) led by former militant commander, Gulbadin Hikmatyar, acting upon a clause of a peace agreement between Kabul and the party last year. Keeping in view the militant and terrorist profile of HIA and its members, most importantly its jailed cadres, national and international observers and human rights activists have criticized the act of President Ashraf Ghani to set the prisoners free. These activists and observers have also expressed fear that setting free incarcerated prisoners of HIA mostly charged with heinous crimes would have adverse effects on the country, government and society in Afghanistan. The release of the HIA arrested men is itself important and apart from possible negative effects of the move, it demonstrates that President Ghani is quite serious in implementing the peace deal he inked with the HIA.
The timings of the release of the HIA men is also very important and it came about at the same time when President Ghani offered the main insurgent group, the Taliban, recognition as a political entity by
the Afghan government. Ghani’s simultaneous offers to the Taliban and release of HIA members seems to be part of the strategy to force the Taliban to join the political mainstream and renounce militancy, failing which the vacuum could be filled by HIA and this Ghani wanted to say would be at the altar of the Taliban.
The HIA and the Taliban have had an antagonistic relationship. When the Taliban emerged in 1994 and went on taking province after province, the HIA, which was in control of a number of provinces gave them an open field, rather a cakewalk. In many parts of Afghanistan, the HIA men even joined the Taliban. Afterwards the Taliban refused to have a close relationship with HIA and completely rubbished the idea of having an alliance with the latter. Now it remains to be seen that how Taliban would respond to the situation?
It seems the Taliban would not be much moved by President Ghani’s strategy to release HIA men. On his part, Ghani also wanted to show to the Taliban that when he signs an agreement with a party, he is fully capable of acting upon on it in letter and spirit. The Taliban have been refusing to talk to the Kabul government, saying it is powerless, while emphasizing on negotiations with Washington. Ghani, by setting free the HIA men, has tried to put a message across to the Taliban that he is not powerless in his decision that it could act on the much-criticized plan with the HIA.
Whatever may be on the mind of President Ghani and his henchmen for signing a peace agreement with HIA, it is quite possible that after the release of its members, the HIA would most probably ask the Afghan President to accommodate some of its members in the government. This is most likely to happen as HIA head Gulbadin Hekmatyar claims that he heads a ‘political’ party. The HIA has widely been known to be notorious as a militant-terrorist group. On the one hand claiming that the HIA is a political party and on the other, entering into a peace agreement with the Afghan government, Gulbadin Hekmatyar seems to have a plan on his mind. This plan is to somehow reach the power corridors of Afghanistan and partake in the state power.
This is extremely important for the HIA and Hekmatyar’s future. After renouncing militancy, at least ostensibly, the HIA would like to survive as a political entity or, for that matter, as a non-violent group. By assuming such a posture, the group would love to have a share in power. This is the single most important way to survive and remain relevant in the changing dynamics of Afghanistan. Here it is important to note that the Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan (HIA), even before inking a deal with the incumbent Afghan President, has been part of the Hamid Karzai government. Ghairat Basheer, one of the sons-in-law of Hekmatyar besides other party leaders like Qazi Amin Waqad, remained part of the Karzai administration.
On his part, beleaguered President Ghani would be unwillingly ready to accommodate HIA men in power. There are many reasons for that. Firstly, the HIA is nearly totally a Pashtun-led and dominated entity whereas President Ghani has been circumvented by nonPashtuns, including the Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, an ethnic Tajik. There has been criticism against Ghani as well as his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, for disproportionately accommodating non-Pashtuns in their governments at the altar of Pashtun majority.
Both Karzai’s and Ghani’s experience with non-Pashtun predominant presence in their administration has been bitter. Despite giving the nonPashtuns a bigger slice of the cake, they could not be won over, whereas the political consequences for both Karzai and Ghani have been quite costly. Ghani would be more than ready to accommodate HIA politically. In fact, this was the basic reason that Ghani entered into a peace agreement with the militant group led by Hekmatyar. Secondly, by giving a share in power to HIA, Ghani, would like to attract the Taliban to the power corridors. He would also be expecting that many pliant Taliban could be wooed to join the government thereby weakening the group. This would put more pressure on the hardcore Taliban to join the political mainstream.
The third reason for which President Ghani would like to share power with the HIA is due to apprehension that without giving them a share in government, the group may resort to militancy yet again. Therefore, Ghani would be ready to accommodate even some of the recently released HIA men in the government in an effort to deradicalize them and also to enable the hardcore militants to return to their ancestral areas. They wanted to reorganize their militant cadres. There was also fear on the minds of Ghani and his advisors that if the released HIA men were left to do as they chose, without dangling carrots before them, they would join the Taliban and this would be catastrophic.
However, if Ghani is going to accommodate criminals and terrorists of the HIA in his government, the Afghans and the international human rights groups would be extremely critical of this. These human rights groups have already expressed the fear that HIA has been a militant and terrorist organization having on its hands the blood of innumerable innocent civilians and rivals. By entering a peace deal with the group, Ghani has committed a grave mistake. The HIA and Hekmatyar, have their hands stained with the blood of innumerable Afghans, including his rivals. This writer is witness to one such gory killing in 1991 in Peshawar when Hekmatyar men killed one of his key political rivals. It is interesting to note that it was the notoriety of Hekmatyar and his militant and terrorist profile that even a group like the Taliban refused to join hands with them.
Releasing the arrested members of the HIA by the Ghani administration would not only invite criticism but would have long-lasting political and security consequences.