Friday, September 30, 2016

An Afghan warlord comes out of the shadows to make peace. But few trust him. - Pamela Constable

 It was both a historic moment and a bizarre spectacle. There was the fugitive Afghan militia leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with a black turban and a beard much whiter than anyone remembered, speaking Thursday via video link from a secret location and then signing a peace agreement as the camera zoomed in on his hands.

There was President Ashraf Ghani, dressed in traditional robes and a yellow turban, beaming as he watched the images on a giant screen in his palace and then ceremoniallysigned his copy of the accord, which he said would go “fully in force” immediately. “This day starts the subsiding of war in Afghanistan and the beginning of rebuilding it,” he said, speaking in Dari.

Making his first public appearance in years, Hekmatyar, who is in his late 60s, was soft-spoken and statesmanlike but vague on details. He said he hoped the agreement would “bring an end to the crisis in this country” and that “no single bullet will be fired, no drop of blood shed” in the transition of power. “I ask all opponents of this government to join this process and pursue their goals through peaceful ways,” he said. 

Hekmatyar, who has been in hiding for years, did not mention whether and when he would return to Afghanistan, which would require his removal from international terrorist blacklists. But his public appearance seemed to put to rest rumors about whether he actually supported the deal, and his conciliatory rhetoric appeared likely to bolster Ghani’s credibility as a peacemaker as he heads to a crucial conference of foreign donors in Brussels on Tuesday. Ghani and his aides have been negotiating for months with Hekmatyar’s representatives, hoping to persuade Talibaninsurgent leaders to lay down their weapons.

“The current generation of Afghans did not start this war. It is up to our older generation to finish it,” Ghani said at the ceremony, using the term “excellency” to address Hekmatyar and some of the assembled former fighters, who are now influential elders or officials. “This is a grand jihad that Afghanistan desperately needs.”

“This is not a peace deal. It is just completing the circle of criminals in our government,” said Obaid Kabir, a rights activist. “Now the other warlords are pretending to favor the deal, but they have an old history of dogfights, and they will start them again.”

But Hezb-i-Islami, like most of the other Islamist parties that once fought one another, has many officials in theGhani government and representatives in parliament. Supporters say these militia groups have changed with the times, prospered under civilian rule and now have a stake in peace instead of conflict.

“Gulbuddin is a charismatic leader who knows how to swim in Afghan politics,” said Farooq Wardak, a senior Hezb-i-Islami leader and former education minister. “If he comes back, many Taliban supporters will join him, and the other mujahideen parties will have to accommodate him. They have made a lot of money, and they want to protect their property now. They don’t want to see Kabul destroyed again.” - Read More, Washingtonpost


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