Naveed Aman Khan
AFGHANISTAN government signed a peace deal with designated “global terrorist” engineer Gulbadeen Hikmatyar of Hisb-e-Islami after lengthy negotiations that could pave the way for similar accord with Afghan Taliban, who have been waging war on Kabul for last 16 years to regain power. Afghan government’s deal with warlord and former Afghan Prime Minister engineer Gulbuddeen Hekmatyar has been country’s first peace agreement since Taliban insurgency in 2001, after being driven from power in wake of 9/11. It granted full political rights to Hezb-i-Islami’s Gulbadeen and obliged Afghan stalwart to get removed from the United Nations’ list of foreign terrorist organizations. Gulbadeen Hekmatyar was designated “global terrorist” by US in 2003. He was black listed at the US request by UN the same year, and has similar status with the British government. The agreement ended years of talks between Kabul and Hekmatyar, who is in his late 60s. The deal enabled him return to Afghanistan after 20 years in exile.
The peace signing ceremony was broadcasted live on television. The agreement was signed by the head of Kabul’s High Peace Council, Ahmad Gilani, national security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar, and Hekmatyar’s representative Amin Karim in the presence of Hekmatyar’s son Habiburahman . The deal marked victory of Ashraf Ghani, who has been unable to bring peace to Afghanistan despite election promises and early efforts to forge a close diplomatic relationship with neighboring Pakistan. The failure of those efforts have seen Ghani reverse course in recent months. He now openly accuses Pakistan of supporting Afghan Taliban. Pakistan denies these accusations. Talks between Kabul and Afghan Taliban, hosted by Pakistan and aimed at ending war, broke down last year . They can be revived. With this peace deal, Aghan President Ashraf Ghani can demonstrate Taliban leaders that his government is willing to make compromises for the sake of peace. The key points are the removal from international blacklists, immunity from prosecution for alleged war crimes, allowing unilateral political activity, and the release of prisoners. Peace is possible.The political space to say no to peace in Afghanistan is now virtually non existent. The deal creates a new narrative that has been missing for many many years.
The final deal was changed from a draft agreed by Hekmatyar’s representatives and the HPC, and seen by Afghan President. Finalizing of the deal was held up by three demands from Hekmatyar that did not appear in the final draft. The contentious points were a demand that Afghanistan’s insecurity be blamed “first and last” on the presence of foreign forces, a timetable for their withdrawal, and that he be granted a formal title as a savior of the country. The deal was supported by international community having vital role in bringing peace to Afghanistan . America and Great Britain welcomed the Peace deal . Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is hopeful that Afghan Taliban would be encouraged to join onward peace process.
National Security Advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar called on Afghanistan’s international partners to “end sanctions” against Hezb-i-Islami to ensure the success of the deal. Hekmatyar’s mujahideen fighters have been largely pushed to the sidelines of Afghanistan’s war with many believed to have joined the Taliban. The last known attack carried out by his militants was in 2013, when at least 15 people, including six American soldiers, were killed in central Kabul. However,he is best known for causing the deaths of possibly thousands of people during the 1990s civil war, when his forces rained rockets on Kabul in his fight with other warlords for control of the capital. Despite Hekmatyar’s bloody past and his support for extreme groups such as al-Qaida Afghan government welcomed the deal. Afghans are tired of conflicts and they know that the ultimate solution for Afghanistan is political settlement, not only with Hezb-i-Islami but also with Afghan Taliban.
Hundreds of Afghans demonstrated in central Kabul against the then finalised peace deal, holding posters showing Hekmatyar with blood dripping from his mouth and calling him the “Killer of Kabul.” Hekmatyar was termed “one of Afghanistan’s most notorious war crimes suspects. No accountability was initiated against Hikmatyar and his associates as a part of the deal. Afghans welcomed the deal. Afghans are thirsty for peace and welcome the one who comes in peace flag. Past is past. This was the pleasant beginning.
Afghan government and Afghan Taliban will have to adapt to a very different political reality. This will not be easy and there may be many setbacks. Both Afghan government and Afghan Taliban will have to forget bitter past differences for better and brighter future of Afghanistan as Hamas and Fatah have done in Cairo for the sake of Palestinians last week. If Hamas and Fatah can forget their decade long differences with Egyptian mediation why Afghan Taliban and Afghan government can’t do the same with the mediation of America, China and Pakistan? Egypt Sisi government’s role regarding reconciliation of Palestine will be written in golden words in history as would be in Afghanistan if Afghan government and Taliban come to any positive peace deal for better and brighter future of Afghans. Successful implementation will be as crucial as the signing. Let’s bury the hatchets. Let’s make it.
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.
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Naveed Aman Khan