Interview with Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar: Can peace talks succeed?

In a rare interview conducted by e-mail, Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar – head of the weakest of three main insurgent groups and the first to engage in peace talks with Kabul – lays out his plan to stop the fighting.

Caren Firouz/Reuters/File
Veteran Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hektmatyar spoke to a reporter in Tehran in this February 5, 2002 file photo.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a veteran Afghan warlord, heads the only one of three main insurgent groups that is holding direct negotiations with the government. His group, Hizb-e-Islami, controls large swaths of the north and east, and in March it delivered to Kabul a 15-point peace proposal. But any deal with Hizb-e-Islami remains far off, due to disagreements over when foreign troops should leave and when to hold new elections. And it is not clear that stronger groups such as the Taliban would follow suit.

Mr. Hekmatyar, who is believed to be hiding in Pakistan, discussed the peace negotiations with the Monitor in a rare e-mail interview, with high-ranking associates of his verifying his identity. Here are excerpts from the interview.

In March, a delegation of yours visited Kabul to explore peace negotiations. Why did your group decide to start talks now?

We started our efforts for peace just after [US President] Obama and other Western leaders mentioned for the first time the possibility of withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan. They said that the chaos of Afghanistan does not have a military resolution, that they could not defeat the opposition by fighting.

We [presented our proposal now] because after the withdrawal of these troops, we don’t want a repeat of what happened after the withdrawal of the Russians [i.e., civil war]. We wanted all Afghan sides to agree to stop fighting forever.

Is the withdrawal of the foreign troops the only way to stop the fighting?

The presence of foreign troops is the fundamental reason for the continued fighting. Foreign troops should leave Afghanistan. Moreover, the interference of neighboring countries and other powerful forces should stop, because their competition is the cause of this chaos.

What role do you see for yourself in a post-US government?

Right now I just want the freedom of my country. I am not thinking about other issues. I don’t want anything for myself, nor have we asked for anything for me or Hizb-e-Islami.

We want that Afghans choose the position of each party and person. And they should not ask the foreigners to insure their desired positions.

If your group stops fighting, what effect will this have on the Taliban?

If Hizb-e-Islami agrees on a proposal for ending the chaos, most of the fighters from the resistance will also agree [to stop]. Most of the nation will support it.

If the United States withdraws, how can you ensure that Al Qaeda will no longer use Afghanistan as a haven?

Right now, Al Qaeda does not have an active or widespread presence in Afghanistan. Iraq and Somalia are more preferred and ideal centers for Al Qaeda.

In our proposal, we said that after the foreign troops leave, there will be no foreign fighters in Afghanistan. Afghans are ready to guarantee this.

Recent reports say Hizb-e-Islami and the Taliban have been fighting in the north.

For the past year, some suspected Taliban groups, following the orders of foreign agents who made the Taliban and Hizb fight each other in the past, decided to fight Hizb. In some places, small fighting took place. But we don’t want to drown in fighting with an Afghan group.

Hard times develop some people’s ability to tolerate problems. Or it brings some people to hopelessness. Thanks to God, I am in the first category. I didn’t feel any weakness or hopelessness in my 42 years of fighting. Never.

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