Afghanistan Peace Deal with Warlord Remains on Edge

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Gulbuddin Hekmatyar3

Shadi Khan Saif

Kabul (AA): It took the Afghan government years to reach its landmark peace deal with ex-rebel leader , but the stalemate in implementation of the accord’s terms, in particular the release of Hezb-e-Islami prisoners, is putting everything at stake.

Lately, Hekmatyar’s men have been publically expressing their growing frustration with the Kabul government.

Hashmatullah Arshad, one of Hekmatyar’s spokesman, said the government was supposed to release Hezb-i-Islami prisoners by Monday, but the promise remained unfulfilled.

“It was promised that in line with the peace deal, our political prisoners would be set free, but it seems some ‘circles’ within the government are creating hurdles,” Arshad told a press conference, which is among several held by the group in recent days.

He warned that any further delay would harm the peace process.

Hekmatyar formed Hezb-e-Islami in the mid-1970s, which is ideologically inspired by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the The Wilson Center, said the deal with Hekmatyar had always been very “tenuous”.

“And it’s no surprise that it would face last-minute challenges. My sense is that there is disagreement between the government and Hekmatyar about the terms of the deal and exactly what concessions would be made by whom,” Kugelman said.

Meanwhile, the warlord has remained quiet and out of public view.

Observers believe Hekmatyar is waiting for the right moment to appear in public and get active in the Afghan political arena.

Government remains optimistic

Since the controversial peace deal was signed in September last year, portraits of Hekmatyar, who used to be the poster child of the Afghan jihad against the former Soviet Union in the 1980s, have reemerged in the capital Kabul and across the country.

Despite voices of discontent from the Hekmatyar camp, a top aide to the Afghan president told Anadolu Agency the Hezb-e-Islami leader would soon visit Kabul.

“He is coming, he will come to Kabul in the next two weeks, we have set the time and everything else, but I cannot give you the details,” the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media, said.

The government insists the delay over the demand for prisoners’ release has been caused by certain technical difficulties only and that there is no ill will on their part.

Ahmad Farzan, spokesman for the commission implementing the peace deal, told Anadolu Agency: “Up to 70 prisoners would be freed in the coming few days; there is a delay only because we want a written assurance from the Hezb-e-Islami and relevant community members that these prisoners would not resort to anti-state activities.”

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has faced severe criticism from rights groups in the country and abroad for the truce with Hekmatyar.

So far, Ghani — who has been labelled as “the architect in-chief of Afghanistan” by The New Yorker for his role in rebuilding the country — has stood by his move to allow the Hezb-e-Islami leader a second chance.

One of the biggest incentive his government gave was the removal of Hekmatyar’s name from the UN’s black list.

UK backs Afghan government

Dominic Jermey, British ambassador to Afghanistan, told Anadolu Agency the U.K. is strongly committed to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process.

Jermey said a political solution is the only way to achieve lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region.

“That’s why the U.K. strongly supports the efforts of the Afghan government and we are working closely with the government and international partners to bring about a sustainable process as quickly as possible.

“As President Ghani has previously said the Taliban have a choice between peace and war. They must choose to help rebuild this country,” the ambassador said.

Taliban, the ‘real threat’

It has been more than six months since the Hezb-e-Islami brokered the peace deal with the government, but, so far there have been no tangible signs the Taliban too would follow suit. In fact, analysts don’t see any advantage in going for a similar peace deal.

Kugelman said: “I’ve never thought peace with Hekmatyar would help promote peace in Afghanistan. He leads an organization that poses little threat on the battlefield.

“And, the Hekmatyar deal will do little to encourage the Taliban, the real threat to peace, to promote peace.

“The Taliban is strong and doing well in its insurgency. Unlike the weaker Hekmatyar, the Taliban has no incentive to seek peace.”

Peace without Pakistan?

A harsh and violent winter has just ended in Afghanistan while the new lunar year means another fighting season in the country is round the corner.

This will be the third year for the nascent Afghan forces taking a lead role in ensuring nationwide security following the end of NATO’s combat mission in 2014.

In the first eight months of 2016, the Afghan forces sustained 15,000 casualties, including 5,523 fatalities, compared with 3,512 casualties sustained by all coalition forces of the U.S-led alliance from 2001 till 2016 during Operation Enduring Freedom.

It is widely believed the U.S. President Donald Trump would approve his general’s demand for more American boots on the ground in Afghanistan.

But, the ragging violence that has also consumed tens of thousands of civilian lives, and with no end in sight is now making many observers realize it cannot be resolved militarily.

“President Ghani is smart enough to know that there’s no military solution to the war, and that peace is the only solution.

“He will support a reconciliation process, though likely one that doesn’t include Pakistan, which Kabul believes is helping the Taliban,” Kugelman added.

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