As the battle over Kunduz rages, US may be forced to extend troop deployment after 14 years of warfare with the Taliban.
After more than 40 years at war, a former Afghan prime minister who has been labelled a “global terrorist” by the US and blacklisted by the UN, appears to be seeking a comeback.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, now in his late 60s, says he wants a “real and fair peace”, but with conditions such as the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan and new elections in 2016.
“Peace can be established, and the fighting can end once the occupation is over, foreign forces leave, and the people of the Afghan nation are given the right to choose their own destiny and establish their own choice of government and governance,” Hekmatyar said.
The remarks appear to reflect an attempt by Hekmatyar to assert influence and gain new leverage in Afghan politics, but what role, if any, he could play is unclear.
The comments were provided to the AP news agency this week after being videotaped in Hekmatyar’s hiding place, said by his associates to be in Afghanistan.
Hekmatyar switched allegiances on the battlefield, fighting first the Soviets, for which he received millions in cash and weaponry from Washington, then the Taliban.
In politics, he served twice as Afghan prime minister and saw Hizb-e-Islami, the party he founded in 1969, eventually fracture and abandon him.
The party’s military wing offered Osama bin Laden shelter after the al-Qaeda leader fled Sudan in 1996, according to the US state department.
Hekmatyar talks of an “inter-Afghan dialogue” that pointedly excludes neighbouring Pakistan, which has been a key mediator and host for Taliban-Kabul peace talks.
“If the US and the Kabul government want peace, then this is the only way,” Hekmatyar says in the video, while also ridiculing Afghanistan’s government and claiming the real “authority in Kabul is with the American ambassador and the NATO forces commander”.
“The defence ministry in Kabul is a mini-Pentagon, and the presidential palace is a mini-White House.”
Since the withdrawal of international combat forces at the end of last year, there are about 13,000 foreign troops – roughly 10,000 of them American – in Afghanistan. The US and NATO mandate is now to train and advise Afghan security forces.
Afghan security analyst Ali Mohammad Ali says Hekmatyar can no longer run a private army because “most of his people have joined the Taliban” or other fighters, including the emerging Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) affiliate, which has established a presence in Hekmatyar’s former strongholds in the eastern provinces bordering Pakistan.
“The Afghan people and the Afghan government will never accept his proposals,” Ali said. “He has lost credibility.”
Hekmatyar is said to have offered himself as an interlocutor to former President Hamid Karzai in 2008, but was deflected amid concerns over his alleged human rights abuses.
“I was, I am, and I will be here in my country when foreign forces leave,” he said. “Then, with the grace of God, you will see me in Kabul.”