A deal between two leading factions in Afghanistan has aroused hopes that the long agony of the war-torn country may be nearing an end. After four months of intense negotiations, Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, leader of the Hizb-e Islami, and Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of the Jami`at-e Islami, who also occupies the presidency, signed a deal on May 24.
According to details released by the parties, the Hizb-e Islami has been offered the post of prime minister as well as the ministries of defence and foreign affairs. It is learnt that Hikmatyar is seeking the interior ministry instead of the defence portfolio.
The latter is already heavily dominated by Ahmed Shah Masoud’s men. Masoud is commander of Jami`at’s forces. Another sticking point is the continued presence of such communist generals as Baba Jan, close to the centre of power. Hikmatyar wants him as well as the other remnants of the communist regime removed.
The deal calls for elections in the country but a precise date or mechanism have not been specified. Until such time, Rabbani will continue to serve as president. Other groups also need to be brought into the alliance to make it broadly representative. Talks are also underway with Hikmatyar’s three other partners in the Supreme Coordinating Council.
Iran appears to have played a role in brokering the Hizb/Jami`at deal. Tehran is also urging the Hizb-e Wahdat, a Shia group, to join the alliance. Alauddin Burujerdi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, has been shuttling between Kabul and Tehran to hammer out the details. He has also held detailed meetings with general Abdul Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek warlord, who controls much of northern Afghanistan.
The Taliban militia has so far refused to accept offers of talks. They insist that Rabbani must resign before they hold any talks. Rabbani, in turn, has appealed to other groups to join the alliance so that normalcy can be restored in the country.
The Hikmatyar-Rabbani talks had been underway for four months. In recent weeks, the Americans too have intensified their involvement in Afghanistan. In April, Dostum was invited to Washington where he met a number of senators as well as Robin Raphel, the US assistant secretary of State for South Asia. Among the senators, he met was Hank Brown, member of the senate foreign relations committee. Interestingly both Brown and Raphel descended on Kabul soon thereafter. The lady has been a frequent flyer to the war-ravaged capital. It is amazing how Americans can go in and out of a country which they have reduced to penury in the first place.
Brown was in Kabul on April 8. He held talks with Najibullah Lafraie, th Afghan minister of State for foreign affairs, and with Masoud. Both complained about Pakistani `interference’ in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, a charge denied by Islamabad. Brown also met Hikmatyar, Haji Qadeer (governor of Jalalabad) and Abdul Rasoul Sayyaf in Jalalabad.
Raphel descended on Kabul on April 19. During her 24-hour stay (she was put up at a hotel in Istalif, just north of Kabul), Raphel met Lafraie, Masoud and Rabbani. She proposed an arms embargo as well as called for convening an international conference on Afghanistan.
Rabbani rejected the arms embargo idea, fearing that it would only be imposed on his government while the various groups which are already operating independently, would escape such restrictions. Rabbani welcomed Raphel’s assurances that Pakistan would not impose any group (meaning Taliban) on Afghanistan.
She also conveyed the message that Islamabad had abandoned the idea of repairing the Speenbuldak-Torghundi road. Pakistan had planned to repair this road to facilitate transportation to the Central Asian republics, especially Turkmenstan, but it has now been dropped because it has proved controversial.
Raphel seemed to get around quite easily. She was also welcomed by the conservative Taliban in Qandahar. The Taliban have closed all girls’ schools and sent women workers home. In areas under their jurisdiction, women are not allowed to venture outside the home. Raphel, however, was welcomed in Qandahar (one wonders whether she was wearing a full-length shuttle cock-style burqa that is the imposed attire for women in that part of the world?) and met the Taliban leaders who asked her to impose a trade and arms embargo against the Kabul regime headed by Rabbani.
America’s involvement in Afghanistan has increased as result of a resurgent Russia and an emerging alliance between Moscow and Beijing. The US fears that such an alliance will challenge its hegemony in the region. Unlike the past, China is the dominant partner in this new alliance.
Whether the Afghans are able to sort out their differences is one question; America’s increased involvement in Afghanistan is an altogether different matter and it is sinister. The Afghan brothers need to be wary of getting too close to Uncle Sam all over again. He is as treacherous as the devil. And as the Qur’an say: the devil is the accursed one!
Muslimedia - July 1-15, 1997