Hikmatyar’s Surprise Shift
In a momentous turnover, Gulbuddin Hikmatyar, the leader of Hizb-e Islami party called on his followers and party members to take part in the upcoming presidential and provincial council elections in Afghanistan. Hikmatyar’s Hizb-e Islami militants have been fighting US-led NATO and Afghan security forces after the overthrow of Taliban regime in 2001.
His surprise and contradictory move is coming after his previous opposition to the April’s elections, and after boycott of all previous elections in Afghanistan during last thirteen years in Afghanistan. The leader of Hizb-e Islami militant party has called on his party supporters to vote for the Party’s candidates or the ones who sympathize with the militant party.
Hikmatyar’s surprise U-turn in encouraging his party members to take part in the elections is suggesting a shift in his attitude towards the upcoming elections and the future of Afghanistan’s politics in absence of foreign combat troops. Hikmatyar’s Hizb-e Islami has suggested that it might support a specific presidential candidate later, but it is yet to be said in the party’s announcement.
Given that Hikmatyar does see himself aligned with most of the prominent presidential candidates, it is premature to say who he will support. However, there is a slim chance that he might announce his support and weigh in behind Qutbuddin Helal, a presidential candidate, who had been Hikmatyar’s aide in the past.
Hikmatyar’s shift, as the leader of one of the fiercest militant groups fighting Afghan security forces and the US-led NATO during past thirteen years, is also meaning that he is vying for power through winning political posts through democratic elections. This for someone who has spent his entire life as an opposition leader and a guerilla fighter against almost all governments in Kabul is considered a remarkable shift towards peaceful pursuit of power.
The leader of Islamic Party may have reached to the conclusion that the Taliban may one day start peace negotiations with the Afghan government, which will leave the Hizb-e Islami militant group marginalized. Probably with such calculations, Hikmatyar started overtures last year to begin negotiations with the Afghan government.
The ongoing negotiations over the bilateral security agreement between Kabul and Washington are another factor convincing Hikmatyar that the conflict could not be won militarily. Given the coincidence of the ongoing efforts for resuming peace talks with the Taliban and the upcoming election in Afghanistan, Hikmatyar may have seen it the right time to explore a political foothold for his party in post-NATO Afghanistan with possible return of the Taliban into peace negotiations.
This is the most important even for all the efforts to persuade the militant groups into peace negotiations and convincing them to support the democratic processes. Hikmatyar’s shift will reinforce the efforts for resuming peace talks with the insurgent groups. It also emboldens those pragmatic members of the Taliban to start negotations with the Afghan government.
This move will benefit the upcoming elections as it will contribute to election security in most insecure areas of the country. It is meaning that the Taliban will most likely avoid attacking polling stations which will lead to a boost in election security in some parts of the country. This would help voter participation and, in general, the whole process of the elections.