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Can Peace in Afghanistan Work With the ‘Butcher of Kabul’ Back

After almost 20 years in exile, the once internationally-wanted militant Gulbuddin Hekmatyar made on April 29 a public re-emergence in Afghanistan as part of a peace deal his faction Hezb-e Islami signed with the Afghan government last year.

Speaking publicly for the first time since his return to the country, Hekmatyar called on the recalcitrant Taliban to join a “caravan of peace” by laying down their arms and joining the peace process. He was speaking in front of family members, followers and politicians in Laghman Province, east of the capital, Kabul.

The controversial deal that has allowed Hekmatyar to return has also seen his name withdrawn from the UN sanction list. The European Union has backed the deal, offering millions of dollars in order to implement the agreement with the former warlord and his party.

The peace deal was a long time in coming, with talks beginning under the administration of ex-President Hamid Karzai, whose friendship with the rebellious Hekmatyar stretched back to the 1990s, when Karzai served as deputy foreign minister in Afghanistan’s transitional government. But to many, Hekmatyar epitomizes the worst of Afghanistan’s warlordism. He gained his moniker “the butcher of Kabul” for his bombardment of civilians in the capital during the civil war that eventually brought the Taliban to power in 1996.

Hekmatyar was also nothing if not a turncoat. He fled Kabul when his opponents the Taliban took over, but after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of the country, he collaborated with the group and with Al Qaeda, even claiming to have helped Osama bin Laden escape from Tora Bora.

While the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) and both the U.S. and E.U. agree that the deal struck with the influential Hekmatyar is a “step forward toward peace,” others fear his return will mark the beginning of an uncertain and dangerous period, not least for women and ethnic minorities.

In 2013, for example, Hekmatyar openly threatened the minority Hazara community in a bigoted Eid-ul-Fitr address:

Global Voices spoke with Dr. Akram Gizabi, a former journalist of Voice of America, well-regarded writer, and Afghan political activist about the possible implications of the peace agreement and Hekmatyar’s return to the political fold.

According to the Afghan government, this peace deal is “the first qualified success in peace efforts between the government and insurgents.” In what way could this deal bring peace in the country?

Many members of Hezb-e Islami are already present in the highest institutions of the country, while other members are fighting against these same institutions. Hezb-e Islami will gain much more power through this deal. Could the group endanger the achievements made by Afghanistan in recent years? 

According to some observers this deal will weaken the Taliban, or at least will push them to the negotiating table. What do you think about that idea?

In a recent interview by Al Jazeera, Hezb-e Islami chief negotiator Mohammad Amin Karim claimed that, “when Hezb-e Islami comes, a huge number of Afghan people will ask us to put pressure on TV channels not to show programmes with women in them.

This is [what] 99 percent of Afghan people [want]. The microcosm of Kabul is only 1 percent.” Could Hekmatyar’s return significantly reverse progress made in women’s rights in Afghanistan?

Since 2001 in Afghanistan there have been attempts to pursue a process of transitional justice, focused on addressing past crimes committed by armed groups. In 2006 the Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation and Justice in Afghanistan was launched by former President Hamid Karzai.

Three years later the Action Plan expired and was not extended. Why, in your opinion, has transitional justice failed in Afghanistan?

Akram Gizabi is a writer, political activist, and former journalist of Voice of America (VOA) based in the United States. In 2005, he founded a political party in Afghanistan called NOMA (Civil Movement of Afghanistan), advocating civil rights, democratic values, secularism, and empowerment of women and minorities. He also established a non-profit drug rehabilitation center called Camp-e-Madar, Mother Camp. He tweets @AGizab.

This article by Nicole Valentini originally appeared on Global Voices.

[Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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