Making A Difference

An Uncertain Alliance

In a surprise turnaround, Hekmatyar joins hands with his bitter foe Rabbani to fight the Taliban

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An Uncertain Alliance
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The new development has certainly gone in favour of President Rabbani, as the co option of a major Pashtoon leader has broadened the base of his Tajik-dominated government. He can now claim to be heading a coalition government comprising parties led by important Pashtoon leaders like Hekmatyar and Professor Sayyaf and two Shiite groups headed by Ustad Akbari and Shaikh Asef Mohseni.

In the changed scenario, Rabbani is no longer under pressure to agree to the transfer of power even though his extended tenure as President ended in December 1994. Though opposition groups are still demanding Rabbani's resignation and the United Nations   special envoy Mahmoud Mestiri continues to reiterate that his peace plan revolves around the transfer of power to a broad-based interim government, it is now obvious that the Afghan President and his military commander Ahmad Shah Masood are not likely to agree to any formula that would undermine their present commanding position in Kabul.

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The Rabbani-Hekmatyar deal is also an indicator of the downfall of the latter, who as the head of the Hezb-i-Islami had been one of the most powerful Afghan faction leaders till last year. His defeat at the hands of the Taliban early last year when he was driven out of his headquarters at Charsayab, had reduced him to a marginal player in Afghan politics. He would have completely faded from the political scene had the north Afghanistan warlord Gen Rasheed Dostum not offered to include his group in the four-party anti-Rabbani alliance called the Supreme Coordination Council of Islamic Revolution of Afghanistan (SCCIRA). However, with his decision to ally with Rabbani, Hekmatyar has once again proved to be an unreliable partner and limited his future options.

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In public, Hekmatyar’s men still maintain that they are having talks with Dostum and two other SCCIRA leaders, Sibghatullah Mojadeddi and Karim Khalili, and that they were keen to jointly enter into an agreement with the Rabbani government. But by agreeing to meet Rabbani at Mahipar near Kabul at the behest of Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami chief, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, and by sending his troops to defend the Afghan capital, Hekmatyar had already decided to go alone and abandon his erstwhile allies.

Those following events in Afghanistan are still perplexed about why Hekmatyar swallowed his pride and embraced his once bitter foes. Observers say it was a desperate act on his part as he felt threatened by the Taliban and was worried about losing even his last strongholds of Laghman and Sarobi. After having unsuccessfully negotiated with the Taliban for seven months for the formation of a possible alliance against Rabbani, he had no choice but to change his stand and seek friendship with Rabbani, thus retaining some hold in Afghan politics.

HEKMATYAR'S men insist they have joined the Kabul government as equal partners. They say Rabbani had offered them the offices of prime minister, defence and finance ministers while retaining the posts of president, interior, national security and foreign ministers. Moreover, they claim that Rabbani had agreed to the joint administration of Kabul's security and the holding of elections after six months.

 The Rabbani government, on its part, apparently made the generous offer in the hope that Hekmatyar would rope in Dos-tum, Mojadeddi and Khalili as well and thus help to build the foundations of a broad-based coalition. But with Hekmatyar's three former allies unwilling to strike a deal, it now seems unlikely that the agreement will be implemented in its original form.

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One indication that mistrust still charac-terises the relations between Hekmatyar and Rabbani is the former's reluctance to enter Kabul. Hekmatyar, in fact, refused to set foot in Kabul to take up his assignment as prime minister a couple of years ago out of fear for his safety in a city firmly controlled by his long-time enemy, Masood. Even now, critics point out, Hekmatyar is facing problems in putting together the force of 12,000 fighters he had promised to defend Kabul. They maintain that Hekmatyar till now had provided not more than 500 men and had, therefore, exposed his real strength to the Kabul regime.

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This alliance, however, has further isolated the Taliban and set alarm bells ringing in Pakistan. On account of its rigid policies and strict enforcement of Islamic laws, the Taliban is being shunned by potential allies, foreign donors and aid-workers. Pakistan government officials, worried by allegations that the Taliban is Islamabad's creation, are also finding it difficult to support Taliban moves like the closure of schools for girls and not allowing women to work in offices.

Islamabad and the Taliban until now had seemed natural allies against a common enemy—Rabbani and Masood—but the recent visit of an Afghan government delegation to Pakistan after many months of hostilities in the wake of the burning down of the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul has led to a visible improvement in the ties between the two governments and in turn injected doubts within the Taliban about Isla-mabad's intentions. For Islamabad, its a no-win situation because improvement in ties with the Rabbani government would annoy the Taliban, which controls almost all provinces bordering Pakistan and enjoys the blessings of influential religio-political elements in Pakistan. Some government officials in Pakistan are in fact unhappy with Qazi Hussain Ahmad for mediating between Hekmatyar and Rabbani, a move that could only strengthen the Kabul regime. Critics deride the Qazi's efforts as an attempt to bring all former Afghan Mujahideen, especially the fundamentalist Ikhwa-nis, on one platform to combat secular and leftist forces as well as the radical Taliban.

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Going by past experience, one can safely say that the Hekmatyar-Rabbani compromise is unlikely to last or contribute towards a lasting solution to the Afghan conflict. The previous such power-sharing agreements between armed Afghan factions have remained unimplemented because they ignored the Afghan people. However, the latest development hardly marks the beginning of an era of peace for the millions of Afghans who have been suffering since the Afghan war began in the early '80s.

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