OVER the last few weeks, there have been several high-profile exchanges between Pakistani and Afghan officials. These visits have been viewed as positive both for the improvement of bilateral ties between Islamabad and Kabul, as well as to ensure that a long-term Afghan peace settlement materialises soon.
However, the visit of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to this country was particularly interesting, especially to those who have been following the tricky path of Afghan politics over the past several decades, particularly the Pak-Afghan relationship. Mr Hekmatyar has worn many hats: Mujahideen warlord, former prime minister of his country and in his latest avatar, an elder statesman. While speaking at an Islamabad think tank on Wednesday, the Afghan veteran said peace in his country could be won if the Americans pulled out, and if there was a “non-aligned” government in Kabul, free from outside interference.
Mr Hekmatyar is a wily survivor of several Afghan conflicts, starting from just before the Soviet invasion, throughout the USSR’s occupation of Afghanistan, and well after the American invasion of his country. As leader of the Hezb-i-Islami faction, he hobnobbed with world powers eager to use Afghanistan’s holy warriors to bring down the USSR’s ‘evil empire’.
However, as the world witnessed, following the exit of the Soviets, Afghanistan saw anything but stability, as the Mujahideen factions started a brutal struggle for power amongst themselves. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was a key player in this power game, and was seen as close to this country’s establishment. He twice held the premiership of his country; it was during his second stint as prime minister in 1996 that Kabul fell to the Afghan Taliban, ushering in a new phase of the Afghan conflict. In the post-9/11 era, Mr Hekmatyar spent many years in the wilderness, living in exile and planning his next move on the battlefield, till Ashraf Ghani ushered him back into the mainstream through a peace deal.
Considering his proposals for peace in Afghanistan, by all means foreign forces must leave the country. However, as this paper has argued, this must be an orderly process. A sudden flight will leave the government in Kabul vulnerable to collapse, leading to another prolonged period of instability in Afghanistan. Mr Hekmatyar speaks from experience, considering the fact that he himself has participated in numerous violent attempts to capture Kabul from the government of the day. As for his advice about foreign non-interference in Afghan politics, it is difficult to argue with this.
While much of Afghanistan’s destruction can be credited to brutal power plays between local factions, global powers have been using the country as a chessboard for years. If a genuine peace agreement is to work, all of Afghanistan’s neighbours, regional powers as well as global actors must pledge not to interfere in the country’s internal matters, and leave the Afghans to chart out a peaceful future for their battle-scarred motherland.
Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2020