Shaking Hands with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Representatives from Hezb-i-Islami, the smallest of Afghanistan’s three major insurgent groups, met with the Afghan president and the United Nations Assistance Mission this week to discuss a list of 15 conditions demanded in exchange for the group laying down its arms. Part 2 of the series.  (Part 1.)

 (KABUL) Compared to the opaque nature of the meetings between UN representatives and members of the Taliban (meetings the UN has confirmed but the Taliban still deny ever took place), the talks between Hezb-i-Islami, the Afghan government and the UN have been comparatively transparent –but only in relative terms. Journalists have struggled to wrest details afterward, and civil society has been shut out, angering progressive elements in Afghan society. Even most Afghan politicians have been forced to rely on the international media for updates.


Women, tellingly, have been completely excluded from the talks. In a March 8 interview with Eurasianet, leading human rights activist Palwasha Hassan bluntly said of Afghan civil society and its nascent women’s movement, “We have to be ready for a fight.” With the Hezb-i-Islami talks well underway, and women and civil society allotted a mere 50 seats in the peace conference scheduled for May, that fight looks to be a bruising one.


Afghanistan scholar Riccardo Redaelli described to The New Republic the effect granting legitimatized power to Hekmatyar would have on Afghan politics. “In the urban part of the civil society, it will be like a bomb that will destroy the image of the government.”


For good reason. In 1994, Hezb-i-Islami commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar issued a series of decrees those unlucky enough to live in Hezb-i-Islami-controlled areas were required to obey. Among them were measures the Taliban later gained international infamy for continuing, including restrictions on the movement of women, the imposition of the burka, the prohibition of music, and medieval punishments for anyone caught violating Hezb-i-Islami’s warped version of Islamic law.

There are no indications Hekmatyar has softened his views in the sixteen violent years since, and the society Kabulis have built since late 2001 is one dangerously incompatible with that totalitarian vision.

Image: Flickr (UNAMA)