Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Afghan President Meets With Insurgents

Yesterday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai meet for the first time with a high-level delegation from Hezb-i-Islami, one of the key groups fighting Afghan and Foreign forces. It is a process that will open wounds from Afghanistan's recent past and challenge the Government to pursue reconciliation while also addressing the legacy of past wars.

Writing in today’s NYT’s Alissa Rubin and Sangar Rahmi point to the larger strategy.

Mr. Karzai is planning a peace jirga, or assembly, for the end of April, and he is inviting a number of insurgent groups, as well as various factions in Parliament and representatives of Afghan civil society organizations.

While the peace jirga is nominally about ending the fighting between the government and antigovernment forces, which include a variety of insurgent groups, it is equally about how power would be shared. No one here expects that the insurgents will give up the fight unless they get a measure of political control.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, head of Hezb-i-Islami is one of the most controversial mujahedeen leaders. He was prime Minister of Afghanistan from 1993-1994 and again briefly in 1996.

For more details on Afghanistan’s recent history look at the executive summary of the conflict assessment prepared last year. The full report with index jumps that will carry you to the section you want is here.

Quick facts about Gulbuddin Helmatyar and Hezb-i-Islami

Founded in the mid 1970's by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Hezb-i-Islami -- "The Islamic Party" -- was one of the main mujahedeen groups fighting the Soviet invasion in the 1980s from its base in Pakistan. It received the lion's share of U.S. and Saudi arms and money channeled through the Pakistani intelligence service.

In 1979, Hekmatyar clashed with another leader inside the faction, Mawlawi Khalis, splitting Hezb-i-Islami into two groups. Hekmatyar's faction, the larger of the two, is now commonly referred to as Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG). There have also been other minor offshoots since then.

After the Soviet withdrawal Hekmatyar fought and made fleeting alliances with most other mujahedeen factions during the resulting civil war and is blamed for killing thousands in Kabul with indiscriminate rocket attacks on the capital.

In 1994, Pakistan dropped support for HIG in favor of Mullah Mohammad Omar's Taliban, and after losing to their forces when the Taliban took Kabul in 1996, Hekmatyar fled to Iran. Many of his fighters joined the Taliban ranks.

After the September 11 attacks Hekmatyar declared himself against the U.S. invasion, was expelled by Iran and returned to his homeland to take up the fight in alliance with the Taliban. Hezb-i-Islami is one of the three groups that NATO forces recognize as the main insurgent factions responsible for attacks against them and Afghan forces. Its fighters are most active in the east of the country and in pockets in the north.

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