Second Afghan Insurgent Group Suspends Peace Talks
Stalled peace efforts in Afghanistan suffered another setback on Thursday when a second insurgent faction — one that has squared off against both the American-led coalition and the Taliban — announced it was suspending formal peace negotiations with the Afghan government, as the Taliban did earlier this month.
The group, Hezb-i-Islami, or Islamic Party, has been an increasingly minor presence on the battlefield in recent years, pressured by coalition forces and chased from strongholds in central and eastern Afghanistan by its Taliban rivals. Its military weakness left it far more willing to talk with the United States and the government of President Hamid Karzai, which includes many members of a breakaway political wing of the group.
The militant wing of Hezb-i-Islami said Thursday that it would continue unofficial talks. But the fact that a group whose current relevance stems largely from its willingness to engage has decided to distance itself from formal negotiations underscored the fragility of the peace effort in Afghanistan. Unlike the Taliban, who have yet to engage in any substantial talks, Hezb-i-Islami delegations have repeatedly traveled from havens in Pakistan to Kabul since 2010. Hezb-i-Islami representatives also met American officials in Afghanistan in recent months.
But on Thursday, Qaribur Rahman Saeed, a representative of Hezb-i-Islami in Europe, said his group was suspending formal talks because neither Afghan nor American officials would seriously consider the group’s 15-point peace proposal. The plan calls for the withdrawal of coalition forces in six months, holding new elections and possibly rewriting the Afghan Constitution. Hezb-i-Islami calls it the National Rescue Agreement.
It is a nonstarter for Kabul and Washington.
For now, that means Hezb-i-Islami’s leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, once a powerful warlord and a former Afghan prime minister, is not willing to take part in formal talks, Mr. Saeed said in a telephone interview from Norway, where he is based.
Because the Afghan and American governments “don’t have any practical and acceptable approaches for the solution of the crisis, the negotiation is going to be suspended,” Mr. Hekmatyar was quoted as saying in a rambling essay written by Mr. Saeed, who provided a copy of the document and asked to be identified as the “head of the Afghan Nation Peace Council” in the European Union.
The critique offered by Mr. Hekmatyar — in essence, that neither the Afghan government nor the American leadership was ready to make the compromises needed to end the insurgency — was similar to the one voiced by the Taliban when it announced this month that it was suspending its nascent talks with the Americans.
Mr. Hekmatyar rose to prominence as a mujahedeen leader during the fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. He was a particular favorite of Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which managed the insurgency against the Soviets.
After Afghanistan’s Soviet-backed government collapsed in the early 1990s, Mr. Hekmatyar went on to become prime minister. He then gained notoriety for bombarding his own capital as the country descended into civil war.
Now he operates from Pakistan, where his insurgent faction is based. Although he is fighting the American-led coalition, his faction has repeatedly clashed with the more powerful Taliban in recent years, losing ground to them.
Despite its military weakness, Hezb-i-Islami remains an intriguing peace partner for both Mr. Karzai and the Americans. The group’s political wing includes Mr. Karzai’s chief of staff, a number of cabinet ministers and numerous members of parliament. American officials say bringing Hezb-i-Islami’s militant wing into the fold would signal to Taliban moderates that giving up the fight is a viable option.