Kabul Despatch | International

A new warlord in town

Just a few steps from the ruins of the Darul Aman palace, one of Kabul’s most tragic symbols, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar found his new home.The notorious warlord was allowed to return to Kabul a few weeks ago after 20 years of hiding as he signed a peace agreement with the Afghan government.

In the 1980s, Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e Islami, then the leading Afghan Mujahideen group, was a bulwark against the Soviet occupation in the country. For that reason, it was also heavily funded by the U.S. and its allies. During the Afghan Civil War in the 1990s, Hekmatyar and his fighters were largely responsible for the destruction of Kabul and countless massacres of civilians. When the NATO invaded Afghanistan in 2001, Hekmatyar, unlike several other Mujahideen warlords, decided to fight the foreign troops. For him, there was no difference between Russian and American soldiers on the Afghan soil.

However, Hekmatyar has changed his mind now. Although thousands of NATO troops are still deployed in the country, he chose to sign the peace deal. Both the UN and the U.S. have dropped him from their “terror list”. However, it didn’t go down well with several residents of Kabul. True, many warlords were integrated in the post-2001 political system — several of them are part of the current government. But Hekmatyar’s history was particularly bloody. Those who lost their family members in the civil war feel extremely disappointed by the government decision.

Hekmatyar’s supporters insist that his ruthless behaviour in the civil war was no more criminal than that of other militia bosses, while critics want him to renounce his past

“This man is a criminal. He destroyed the city and murdered thousands of people. How dare he come back and talk about peace?” Abdul Haleem, 61, who works as a fruit-seller not far from Hekmatyar’s new home on the Darul-Aman Road, asked. “It’s true that all of the former Mujahideen leaders have blood on their hands. But in the case of Hekmatyar, it’s very tragic for my family,” said Mohammad Yunus, 55, a food vendor in Kabul. “I lost my brother and his wife when one of his rockets hit their house. Who will bring us justice?”

A step towards peace

Nevertheless, some people in the capital city believe his return might be a step towards peace. “I think he truly wants to bring peace, and that he will do that,” Hajji Mostafa, a cab driver, said. “Hekmatyar still has a lot of power and that’s why many people fear him.”

Since Hekmatyar’s return, thousands of his posters have flooded Kabul and other big cities. Wealthy politicians have reportedly offered him more men, weapons, cash and other kind of support. His supporters insist that his ruthless behaviour in the civil war was no more criminal than that of other militia bosses, while critics say he does not deserve a role in Afghanistan’s future unless he renounces his past, which he has not done yet.

According to some observers, Hekmatyar’s return would not have been possible without Washington’s permission. It’s part of another political game in the country, they argue. “Our country is a chessboard for the super powers. Some of them just decided that Hekmatyar, who was also their puppet in the past, should return while others might not be happy about it,” said Homayun, a bookseller.

Nevertheless, the bookseller sees a tragic irony in Hekmatyar’s comeback. “All those men who once destroyed our beautiful city are back together again. They are even warmly welcomed and celebrated in this very city,” he told this writer at his book shop near Kabul’s busy Mandai Bazar. The shelves in the shop are filled with books on history, novels and biographies of Afghan politicians, including both Communist and Mujahideen leaders. “I’m sure that books about Hekmatyar are also coming soon,” Mr. Homayun said.

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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 11:24:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/a-new-warlord-in-town/article18715166.ece

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