The recent meeting between a deputy of Richard Holbrooke, the United States special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and an emissary of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA), is by all accounts a landmark move in the United States’ stated aim of involving militant groups in ending the conflict in Afghanistan.
The choice of Hekmatyar also indicates just how desperate the US is in finding an escape route from the escalating crisis in Afghanistan. Hekmatyar is a declared terrorist with a reported $25 million price on his head. The 61-year-old engineer from Kunduz province and his anti-government fighters are responsible for large numbers of attacks against Afghan and international forces, mainly in the northeast of the country
However, Hekmatyar’s spokesman denied being in contact with Holbrooke “as reported”, but hinted it might be possible if certain conditions were met. The British Daily Telegraph cited Afghan media reports that one of Holbrooke’s deputies had been been in contact with Hekmatyar. The Hekmatyar spokesman’s denial was cited by Reuters.
Hekmatyar’s spokesman Haroon Zarghon rejected Afghan and foreign media reports this week that an envoy had met U.S. officials in Washington in a move to show willingness by the veteran leader for peace talks.
“No one from Hekmatyar’s side has met with U.S. officials as reported,” Zarghon told Reuters by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.
Zarghon said Hekmatyar, a veteran of the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, was open to the idea of talks but the withdrawal of foreign forces was a vital pre-condition.
“We have three conditions for negotiations: unconditional pull-out of foreign forces, formation of an interim government involving all sides and holding of free elections under its supervision,” he said. “If the expulsion of foreign troops is on the agenda of talks, we are ready to hold them with any one,” he added.
The Telegraph wrote that “Afghan media reported that Daud Abedi, his deputy, had met with the US official to discuss what role Hizb-i-Islami could play in ending the Afghan conflict. US State Department officials were not immediately available to confirm the reports.” This is something to watch. But the facts on the ground are still unclear.