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.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - The writer has a doc­toral de­gree in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity an­a­lyst.

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.

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