What does the return of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar mean for Afghanistan?
Signing of Peace Accord with HIA
Afghanistan signed a landmark peace deal with the Islamic Party known as Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan, allowing for the group’s leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to return to his country. Hekmatyar returned to the capital of Afghanistan in early May of this year after two decades in hiding. He called for peace and reconciliation as he was welcomed by the Afghan government and many other parties in the country.
The United Nations lifted sanctions against Hekmatyar, subsequent to a decision made by the UN Security Council to remove Hekmatyar from the UN terrorist blacklist. This decision was made following a peace deal which was signed between the Afghan government and Hekmatyar’s party. A formal request by the Afghan government was made to remove Hekmatyar’s name from the sanctions list.
The UN Security Council stated in a Press Release that it had lifted a freeze which was placed on Hekmatyar’s assets, a travel ban and an arms embargo, all of which no longer apply to him.
The 25-point pact provides Hekmatyar and his members with amnesty and grants them full political rights. It also recognises the Hezb-i-Islami organisation as a political party, and allows for the release of some of its prisoners. As part of the deal, he and his party agreed to accept the constitution, abandon fighting and to encourage others to do the same.
Hekmatyar also signed the pact last year via a video link which was played at a ceremony in the presidential palace. Hekmatyar made a speech from an undisclosed location and made some remarks on the accord and the future of Afghanistan. The ceremony was broadcasted live on television and attended by many politicians from different political parties.
Hekmatyar opened his speech by reciting a verse from the Qur’ān to validate and endorse the peace agreement,
“And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allāh. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.” [8:61]
He further stated,
“I call on all sides to support this peace deal and I call on the opposition parties of the government to join the peace process and pursue their goals through peaceful means,”
“We hope that the day comes when foreign interference has ended, foreign troops have departed fully from Afghanistan, and peace has been achieved.”
As soon as sanctions against Hekmatyar were lifted, he returned to his country after more than 20 years in exile. He appeared in public for the first time in the eastern province of Afghanistan, Laghman and later travelled to Jalalabad. He then travelled to the capital with tight security, in a large armed convoy that was guarded by an army helicopter.
Who is Hekmatyar/HIA?
Hekmatyar is well-known as one of the most prominent and influential leaders against the Soviet forces in the 80s. He is an Afghan war veteran and politician who also shortly served as the Prime Minister of the country in the 90s. His rebel group is considered as one of the most successful in defeating the soviet army and the second largest rebel group in the country.
His party, Hezb-i-Islami, which literally translates to Islamic Party, is an Islamic organisation that was set up by him and his associates in the year 1975. It was a group which stood firmly against the Communist Government of Afghanistan and then a few years later against the Government’s close ally, the Soviet Union.
Hekmatyar has also authored as many as 118 books ranging from linguistics to Pashto grammar and comparative religion. He has written several books on Islām and has translated the Holy Qur’ān and Hadith books.
At a book launch, Qutbuddin Helal said that Hekmatyar wrote his books whilst continuously travelling and moving from one area to another.
Hekmatyar is seeking peace and considering a political solution to the turmoil in the country. Ever since his return he has spoken about establishing and working on a think-tank to help bring about a solution to the chaos in the country. Afghanistan is a mountainous and landlocked country located within South Asia and Central Asia. Although situated in Asia, in the present world it can also be considered in the Middle East according to theories of regionalisation. This is because Afghanistan is associated with the Middle East region as a result of religious and political similarities although being different in culture and language. Currently, the country’s infrastructure and economy is in ruins due to on-going severe instability and war, which has consequently resulted in the deaths of uncountable people with countless being forced to become refugees.
In his first public speeches Hekmatyar called on other groups such as the Taliban to lay down their weapons and to also come to the negotiation table. He said,
“Come for God’s sake, come and give up fighting which the victims of this war are Afghans,”
“I invite you to join the peace caravan and stop the pointless, meaningless and unholy war…Set your goals, and I will be with you on your good goals.”
He made further remarks such as,
“I have come for brotherhood and unity, and I extend my hand to everyone. You can count on us. We are ready”.
“I want a free, proud, independent and Islamic Afghanistan,”
Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan, who signed the peace agreement and welcomed Hekmatyar at the ceremony in the presidential palace thanked him for, “heeding the peace call”.
What does this mean for the future of Afghanistan?
Hekmatyar made another appearance at Kabul’s main football stadium, Ghazi stadium. Thousands of supporters were present on this occasion which clearly demonstrated his continued support and influence throughout the country. He addressed the thousands of supporters who queued for hours and waited eagerly for Hekmatyar to address them on the peace agreement.
Referring to the current structure of the government which he has repeatedly criticised, he stated
“This division of power is not God’s will, nor is it based on the constitution,”
“This is John Kerry’s division. Do not look upon this division as sacred.”
Hekmatyar has also stated that,
“Turkey’s constitutional changes were inspired by the constitution I wrote. We also want that to replace the current Afghan constitution.”
The peace deal now opens a new chapter for Hekmatyar as well as the future of Afghanistan. Hekmatyar aims to unite the different factions and movements in the country and to encourage them to come to the negotiating table.
Hekmatyar said at a Press Conference this month that all the political parties in the country should stand together to help find a solution to the ongoing problems. He also added that it was time for neighbouring countries, namely Iran and Pakistan, to also play their part in ensuring peace in Afghanistan.
In reference to some recent remarks made by the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Hekmatyar stated that,
“No one has got the right to instruct us from outside or interfere in our affairs.”
With the rapidly changing political climate in Afghanistan, for many Afghans the return of Hekmatyar is a sign of hope. Whether his return will bring about change – only time will tell.
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