Afghanistan polls, held without a ceasefire, do not portend political stabilityhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/a-doomed-afghanistan-elections-2019-taliban-isis-al-qaeda-6076648/

Afghanistan polls, held without a ceasefire, do not portend political stability

A total of 2.7 million Afghans or 28 percent of the registered voters voted in the elections. An election, held without a ceasefire with the Taliban and its allies, the Al Qaeda and Islamic State, was foredoomed

A Doomed Election
Afghan election workers stack ballot boxes at the warehouse of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Source: AP Photo/File)

Warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who stood for president in the September 2019 elections in Afghanistan, announced post-poll that his rival, incumbent President Ashraf Ghani’s votes were “over 60 per cent bogus”, but he, Hekmatyar, had won the election anyway. The Tajik “chief executive” Abdullah Abdullah too announced that he had won the election.

A total of 2.7 million Afghans or 28 percent of the registered voters voted in the elections. An election, held without a ceasefire with the Taliban and its allies, the Al Qaeda and Islamic State, was foredoomed. The trio held almost half of the “voting” Afghanistan.

In June 2019, Ghani visited Pakistan to say that its past “interference” in Afghanistan through the Taliban Quetta Shura had disturbed the bilateral equation which he hoped to set right. Later, Hekmatyar declared that Ghani was going to harm Pakistan by helping Iran and India to scuttle Pakistan’s policy in Afghanistan and the region.

That Hekmatyar “negotiated” his return to Afghanistan, after a decade of war, did not mean that he was on the side of the Kabul government fighting the Taliban, al Qaeda and IS. It did not matter that he moved back because he couldn’t get along with the Afghan Taliban leaders who once lived together with him in Peshawar in Pakistan during the war against the Soviet Union (1979-1989). He had begun by being a favourite of the US and ended up being its enemy, just as he began by being lionised by Pakistan but found Pakistan too “subservient” to the US. His view, however, surreptitiously resonated with many within the deep state of Pakistan.

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His latest “revelation” was that Iran was in cahoots with India to harm Pakistan. Hounded by the rival Afghan warlords, he had “requested” Iran to give him shelter in 1996 — only to be driven out of there in 2002. After the Taliban under Mullah Umar fell from power in 2001, he returned to Pakistan to “resist” the government of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

To retrieve the details of his peace deal with Kabul, let’s examine the facts more closely. On September 21, 2016, Ghani signed a peace deal with Hekmatyar and his Hizb-e-Islami militia. Before the deal, Hekmatyar apologised for bombing Kabul in 1993-94. He wanted to do this routine with Karzai too, but in those days the Americans didn’t like the idea — they had placed a bounty on him. They knew that, starting 1996, he had lived in Tehran for seven years after apologising for having kicked the pro-Iran Shia militias out of the post- Soviet withdrawal mujahideen shura of Peshawar. He had Pakistan’s ISI chief General Hamid Gul propping him up as Afghanistan’s new prime minister.

Pakistan inherited a split Afghan policy because of Hekmatyar’s vendetta against the Tajik warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud. It meant that Pakistan had to say goodbye to the non-Pashtun tribes of northern Afghanistan, thus creating space for India to step in and balance the war in Pakistan’s backyard. Pakistan’s pursuit of a “Hekmatyar policy” did not endear it to the Pashtuns of Afghanistan either. After the fall of the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul, Hekmatyar was chosen as prime minister of the new set-up; but he was not allowed to sit on the Kabul throne by his enemy Massoud’s militia that had “symbolically” bombed Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul to signal its opposition.

Hekmatyar sat instead on a hill outside Kabul and bombed the daylights of the capital city. He had more ammunition than all the Pakistan-supported warlords put together. Efforts to persuade Hekmatyar to reconcile with the Kabul government failed despite Osama Bin Laden’s urging “to compromise with Ahmad Shah Massoud” in a radio conversation from Peshawar a year earlier in 1991: “Go back with your brothers,” Bin Laden had stated. Instead, in 1992, Hekmatyar persuaded Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum and his Hazara Jihadi faction Hizb-e-Wahdat to form a common front against the Kabul government.

This article first appeared in the October 19 print edition under the title ‘A Doomed Election’ The writer is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan