5 years ago
From the WSJ:
One of the three main leaders of the Afghan insurgency, mercurial warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has a long history of switching sides, and once fought against his current Taliban allies.
Now, he has held out the possibility of negotiating with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and outlined a roadmap for political reconciliation, opening what could be the most promising avenue for Mr. Karzai’s effort to peacefully resolve the conflict.
It is far from certain that any talks with Mr. Hekmatyar will begin, let alone succeed. But in contrast to Taliban leader Mullah Omar and allied insurgent chief Sirajuddin Haqqani, who refuse any talks with Kabul as long as foreign troops remain in the country, Mr. Hekmatyar took a much more conciliatory line in a recent video.
“We have no agreement with the Taliban—not for fighting the war, and not for the peace,” said Mr. Hekmatyar, who commands the loyalty of thousands of insurgents. “The only thing that unites the Taliban and [us] is the war against the foreigners.”
Unlike in previous videos, where Mr. Hekmatyar used a Kalashnikov rifle as a prop and expressed support for al Qaeda, in the latest tape, recorded in late December and provided to The Wall Street Journal by his aides in Pakistan, he assumed a professorial tone, wearing glasses and a black turban as he spoke in a quiet, soft voice.
Mr. Hekmatyar, who is 59 years old and lived in exile in Iran when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, built his movement over the last three years into a formidable force. His men dominate the insurgency in several eastern and central Afghan provinces, such as Kunar, Laghman and Kapisa, according to American intelligence estimates.
At the same time, a legal wing of Hizb-e-Islami, an Islamist party that Mr. Hekmatyar founded in the 1970s, participates in the Afghan parliament, with 19 of 246 seats. One of its leaders is minister of the economy in Mr. Karzai’s new cabinet. Though the legal Hizb-e-Islami denies formal links with Mr. Hekmatyar, many of its senior members are believed to maintain communications with the grizzled warlord, and openly support the idea of bringing him into the government.
Mr. Hekmatyar’s “reported willingness to reconcile with the Afghan government” has already become a key factor working against the militancy because it “causes concern that others may follow,” the U.S.-led international forces’ intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, noted in a recent presentation. In addition to subtracting fighters from the battlefield, such a reconciliation would boost the legitimacy of the Kabul government.
Currently, fighters of the three main groups—Mullah Omar’s Taliban in the south, where the bulk of combat takes place, the Haqqani network in the southeast, and Mr. Hekmatyar’s men in its strongholds—cooperate with each other, at least on the tactical level, American intelligence officials say.
But, while Mr. Haqqani made a formal oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar, recognizing him as his overall leader, Mr. Hekmatyar repeatedly refused to make such a pledge. In the tape, he said he spent “a couple of months” with Mullah Omar and al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahri in 2002, but insisted that he “had no direct or indirect contact with them since then.”
McChrystal says that there has been enough fighting. This so-called reconciliation is being pressed from the Afghan – ISAF – U.S. side. Hekmatyar appears to be seizing the opportunity being presented to him. But he has become a powerful warlord, and I predict that if the Taliban prevails in Afghanistan, Hekmatyar and they will come sweetly with each other. He will be nice with whomever he needs at the moment, and the Taliban won’t take up an unnecessary fight.
My point is that the payoff of any alliance with Hekmatyar will ultimately depend on other things that we must do, such as militarily defeat the Taliban. Either way, this process is backwards from what it was in the Anbar Province of Iraq. The first alliance between the U.S. Marines and Iraqis occurred after they had already started opposing AQI. Concerning Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, he was negotiating with U.S. forces while we were killing his tribal members who were part of his smuggling ring. In Operation Alljah, invitations were opened for indigenous Fallujans to join the IPs only after an utterly massive application of military force within the city and surrounding locations.
No one wants to see more death and bloodshed of U.S. or ISAF forces, or of Afghan noncombatants. The best way to ensure that this is minimized may be to kill more insurgents. If they come to the table, it should be they who request it – while we sit in a position of strength.