INTERVIEW Holbrooke reaches out to Hekmatyar By Syed Saleem Shahzad
The recent meeting between a deputy of Richard Holbrooke, the United States
special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and an emissary of
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA), is by all
accounts a landmark move in the United States' stated aim of involving militant
groups in ending the conflict in Afghanistan.
The choice of Hekmatyar also indicates just how desperate the US is in finding
an escape route from the escalating crisis in Afghanistan. Hekmatyar is a
declared terrorist with a reported $25 million price on his head. The
61-year-old engineer from Kunduz province and his anti-government fighters are
responsible for large numbers of attacks against Afghan and international
forces, mainly in the northeast of the country. For years, Washington has
branded Hekmatyar an irreconcilable militant.
The HIA, founded by Hekmatyar, was one of the most effective mujahideen groups
to fight the Soviet invasion during the 1980s. But, according to reports, the
party became a favorite of Pakistan's intelligence agency and Hekmatyar's men
were known as the most fundamentalist of all Afghan resistance fighters.
To date, however, the US has failed miserably in attracting mainstream Afghan
forces of the past back into the political process, including tribal warlords,
the Taliban, the Northern Alliance and the HIA. This means, as Peter Lee wrote
last month in Asia Times Online, "...the unpredictable Hekmatyar, who has
survived the jihad, the civil war, defeat at the hands of the Taliban, exile in
Iran, an assassination attempt by the CIA, and return to Afghanistan as an
insurgent leader, is the great hope of all parties as the only Pashtun
strongman untainted by al-Qaeda and possibly capable of taking on the Taliban."
(See Taliban force a
China switch, Asia Times Online, March 6, 2009.)
The insurgents loyal to Hekmatyar have now emerged as the most important
component of anti-Western coalition resistance in Afghanistan. While most of
Taliban-led resistance is situated near the Pakistan Afghanistan borders,
insurgents loyal to Hekmatyar hold complete command over Kapissa province's
Tagab valley, only 30 kilometers north of Kabul. The HIA, whose political wing
has offices all over Afghanistan and keeps 40 seats in the Afghan parliament,
is fully geared to replace President Hamid Karzai in the upcoming presidential
Now, eight years after the US attack on Afghanistan, Washington is initiating
dialogue with Hekmatyar through his longtime lieutenant Daoud Abedi, the link
between the Hekmatyar and the West. Abedi is an Afghan-American based in
California as well as a prominent businessman, social worker and a former
representative of the HIA.
In an exclusive interview from his home in Los Angeles, Abedi explains what was
discussed between himself and the US official representing Holbrooke and the
ATol: Please shed light on your recent visit to the region of Pakistan
and Afghanistan and your meeting with US officials on behalf of Hezb-e-Islami
Dauod Abeidi: Brother Shahzad, first of all, I thank you for the call
and I appreciate your attention regarding Afghanistan and international
affairs. I always read your articles and I am enlightened by your writings. May
Allah reward you. ... As you know, I represented HIA in the US. Yes, I was
approached by the US government here and we did speak. We want a new policy of
the US for Afghanistan and [we want] to bring peace to this war-torn country.
... Based on that, I spoke to some people here and al-Hamdullilah [thank
God] the results of the talks were positive ... This is something which I
personally started and forwarded to our Hezb brothers in Afghanistan ... The
purpose of those meetings was to see how we can bring peace Afghanistan and to
make sure foreign troops leave Afghanistan as soon as possible.
ATol: Could you please name the officials who you met?
DA: I think since talks are still going, it is best to keep that [quiet]
for the moment. You will hear more about the talks [but] since they are ongoing
I think it is better to keep it that way.
ATol: Could you please confirm whether Pakistan is involved in this
dialogue process - or is this just between the HIA and the US?
DA: I have not met with any Pakistani official at all. This is my
personal initiative since I know what the HIA wants and what the Taliban wants
in order to see if we could make a situation possible in which foreign troops
leave Afghanistan as soon as possible. This is the demand of both sides, the
HIA and the Taliban. This is the first priority: that foreign troops must leave
Afghanistan as soon as possible. And based on that we [want] to find the way to
bring peace to this war torn country.
ATol: Have the Americans agreed to any schedule for the withdrawal of
their troops from Afghanistan?
DA: President Obama has mentioned many times that they are not staying
there forever. They want to leave Afghanistan as soon as there is a peace
through the Afghans and [create] a possibility that allows [them] to leave. So
we are hopeful and there is no other way to bring peace to Afghanistan except
that foreign troops leave and that the Afghan people decide their own future
and their own type of government.
ATol: Were Taliban on board for this dialogue process, or were they just
DA: There was the discussion about the Taliban. Taliban are also the
sons of Afghanistan. They are sacrificing for Afghanistan and for the freedom
of Afghanistan so we are hopeful that they will give a positive answer to our
request as well.
ATol: Is there any chance that HIA shall join the Afghan government in
the near future?
DA: No. There is no such chance because we want to solve the problems
through all Afghans. We are not planning to take sides against one another. The
HIA's stance is to bring peace in Afghanistan and we all know that peace cannot
come to Afghanistan without Hezb-e-Islami. Because of that issue, we are trying
to work with all sides especially with the Taliban and with the US. The Kabul
government has not been able to bring peace to Afghanistan and based on that we
are hoping Kabul will also understand [it is] time for the Afghan people to
choose their own future leaders in the government.
ATol: Has Hekmatyar given approval for these talks [with the US]? Is he
ready for any immediate truce with NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]
DA: Brother Hekmatyar has approved my talks. But as I have mentioned,
this was started by myself and later he gave his approval with the condition of
the departure of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
ATol: Would [Hekmatyar] agree to any immediate ceasefire with the NATO
DA: A ceasefire is possible once talks are over and we know the exact
schedule for the departure of the foreign troops. This has not been discussed
yet, but we are hopeful that if there is an accepted date for the departure of
the foreign troops, then all sides could talk - the HIA, Taliban and the
foreigners - and see if we could agree on a ceasefire as a goodwill gesture.
But that can be done only when there is a confirmed date of departure.
ATol: What would be the future of al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden once any
peace deal is signed between the HIA, the Taliban and NATO? Where would they
stand [on such a deal]? DA: First of all, nobody knows where Shiekh
Osama Bin Laden is. It is not proven that he is in Afghanistan. The second
thing is, al-Qaeda doesn't have big numbers of members. Foreign forces searched
Afghanistan inch by inch and they could not find one al-Qaeda member. If they
are somewhere else, we are not aware. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, they
are not there.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at email@example.com.