KABUL – Renowned Afghan warlord and leader of Hizb-e-Islami of Afghanistan Gulbuddin Hekmatyar entered the Afghan capital Kabul after a stretched span of two decades on Thursday.
With scores of cars zooming past the locals, the visit of Hizb-e-Islami leader is termed crucial owing to the long-standing Afghan game that is becoming more complex with each passing day.
Hekmatyar is slated to call on President Ashraf Ghani and other officials of the National Unity Government (NUG) today after which he would take part in a mass gathering in eastern Kabul on Friday.
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In his first public appearance in about 20 years, Hekmatyar addressed a crowd of supporters in Laghman province last week and called on all insurgent groups to end the war and join the peace process.
In his 48-minute-speech, Hekmatyar termed the fight against Kabul and international forces, “illogical, in vain, and unholy,” though his group and Taliban have been fighting that for around 15 years.
He emphasised on peace, reconciliation, and an end to a “bloody war,” but then he heavily focused on core principles of jihad, a centralized system of government, and anti-media and anti-Western sentiments.
Hekmatyar, who heads HIA, the second largest insurgent group in Afghanistan was once dubbed the ‘Butcher of Kabul’ but the relations between him and Afghan government started to normalise in September last year with Kabul granting amnesty for offences he had committed during the 1992-1996 bloody civil war.
The United Nations had also categorised him as a terrorist before removing his name from such category in the purview of peace deal between him and Ghani administration.
The sanctions against the war-torn Afghan bigwig were also lifted paving the way for more closeness between president Ghani and him.
In addition, scores of Hizb-e-Islami prisoners were also released in the coming weeks stirring uproar and satisfaction among the masses. Releasing of prisoners of HIA was one of the demands of the party.
The group has however acknowledged that 13 controversial prisoners, who were not released as part of the group of 55 on Tuesday, had been involved in plotting suicide bombings.
But apart from all this, there’s another factor, the ‘Hazara’ community, third-largest ethnic group in Afghanistan that relates to the current situation. The resentment in the community was triggered when their large procession was targeted by a bomb attack in 2016. The Tajik figure Ahmad Zia Masoud blamed government for that.
On the other hand, another speech of Hekmatyar in 2013 was said to be in bad taste as he categorically announced that soon there will be no shelter for Hazaras in any part of the country.
Above all, his comeback at a time when Pakistan’s neighbour is highly polarized becomes more sensitive owing to the elections slated to held in 2019.
A reunited Hezb-i-Islami would play a significant role in the power struggles in the 2019 elections.
What exacerbates the situation a bit more is the launch of Spring offensive ‘Operation Mansouri’ by Taliban who aim to target foreign forces and to build institutions.
Russian influence in the region is also increasing and political analysts warn that the ties could dent the peace process initiated by US.
Commander of U.S. and foreign forces in the country, General John Nicholson also raised concerns regarding Russian intervention and alleged that it was aiding Taliban through arsenal support.
“We continue to get reports of this assistance, and, of course, we had the overt legitimacy lent to the Taliban by the Russians. That really occurred starting late last year, beginning through this process they’ve been undertaking,” asserted Nicholson.