A peace deal with former PM Hekmatyar has sparked mixed reactions in Afghanistan. Some believe the deal will pave the way for talks with the Taliban, while others argue it could stall Afghanistan's peace process.
The Afghan government signed a draft agreement with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezbe Islami party on Wednesday, May 18, hoping to advance the country's halted peace process.
Members of Afghanistan's High Peace Council (HPC), the body tasked with forging reconciliation with the Taliban and other armed groups, praised the deal as a step towards peace. A member of the HPC said the deal could pave the way for other militant groups like the Taliban to join the government.
But not everyone in the war-torn country is optimistic. Many argue that Hekmatyar's party is already too involved in the government, and the deal is only a symbolic move to integrate the leader of the group into Afghan politics.
This seems to be an accurate observation, as most members of Hezbe Islami are either in the government as ministers and other high-ranking officials or are already living in Afghanistan as politically active citizens.
The reason why Hezbe Islami is both in the government and posing as an armed opponent group, according to Afghan analyst Wahid Muzhdah, is because the party has been trying to reconcile with the Western-backed Afghan government for many years.
"Hezbe Islami sent delegations to meet with former Afghan President Karzai's government at least 16 times," Muzhdah said, adding that each time Karzai would ask the members of the delegation to stay in Kabul and would provide them with cars, homes and security.
"This isolated Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to a very large extent. This is why he agreed to come to the capital, Kabul, or another Afghan province," Muzhdah told DW.
Like Muzhdah, many others in the South Asian country believe that Hekmatyar is joining the peace process only to attempt to take absolute control of his party, which has had a strong support base among Pashto-speaking Afghans during the country's war against the former Soviet Union and later during Afghanistan's civil war.
The expert said it would be very difficult for Hekmatyar to take back control of his party, as many Hezbe Islami members are affiliated with different groups in Afghanistan and bringing them back together would require a lot of time and resources.
On top of that, some Hezbe Islami members have registered a new party in Afghanistan and have distanced themselves from the former warlord for years.
Negotiating from a weak position
President Ghani's National Unity Government is under pressure for failing to reach a peace agreement with the Taliban or with other armed groups. Efforts by Afghanistan to reconcile with the Taliban with Pakistan's involvement seem to have hit a dead end, with Kabul blaming Islamabad of not fulfilling its promises.
On the other hand, President Ghani is facing major internal challenges. The government's approval rating has been decreasing, and the Taliban's insurgency seems bloodier than ever.
A major anti-government protest in Kabul on May 16 highlighted the fragile political situation in the country and Ghani's declining in support among Afghans.
Experts believe that President Ghani wants to strengthen his support among Pashtuns who supported Hekmatyar during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990's.
"Hekmatyar still has a lot of support among people all over Afghanistan, and his union with the government can bring a lot of new people to their side," Faiz Mohammad Zaland, a lecturer at Kabul University, told DW.
Insurgency to continue
Hekmatyar's problems are not just domestic. His name is included on the United Nation's blacklist and the US State Department's designated terrorist list. His party, like many other Afghan parties involved in the country's civil war, is linked to war crimes.
The Afghan government, however, has pledged to offer amnesty to members of the group and release its prisoners held by authorities. Also, the government has agreed to help remove Hekmatyar's name from the UN and US State Department's black list.
Hekmatyar's group was most recently blamed for a 2013 suicide attack in Kabul that killed 14 people, including six Americans. But observers believe that Hezbe Islami has not been actively fighting the government in recent years and, therefore, will not have a dampening effect on the Afghan insurgency.
"Most of the fighting in Afghanistan is done by Taliban members who decline to engage in peace talks with the government," Ahmad Saidi, a former Afghan diplomat said, adding that the insurgency will continue in the country despite the deal with Hekmatyar.
"The situation in Afghanistan is so complex that even if ten more people like Hekmatyar joined the peace process, the war will continue," he stated.