Former Afghanistan Prime Minister and chief of the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) party Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose fighters killed thousands in Kabul during the bloody civil war of the 1990s, has remained a divisive figure since his return from exile in 2016. Hekmatyar, 72, has supported dialogue and elections to decide the next Afghan government and is also participating in discussions with Taliban leaders presently. He has deep and well-established links with Pakistan’s intelligence agencies, which make him a crucial player.
In an exclusive tell-all with CNN-News18, the veteran political leader elaborates his role in the formation of the current regime under Taliban, Pakistan and China’s attempts to influence decisions and the aftereffects of a 20-year-long war on his country.
You are one of the oldest faces of Afghanistan’s struggle. Afghanistan is once again at an important juncture in its history. How do you view it as a veteran?
We have witnessed three consecutive superpowers invade Afghanistan in the past century - the British, the Soviet Union and the United States of America. All of them faced grave fates in this country. Protracted wars and unparalleled resistance from brave freedom fighters were central causes to the defeat of invading forces. They all entered Afghanistan at the peak of their power yet they failed to achieve any of their strategic goals and had to withdraw with their heads hanging in shame. The geostrategic importance of Afghanistan has been boosted by the eventual defeat of the United States in the twenty-year-long intractable war. Afghanistan has now turned into a playground of regional and global rivalries. Though the occupation of Afghanistan was a deadly and destructive affair for Afghans, it had costly consequences for the United States and its allies. Those who see this defeat of the United States as the start of their decline would not be exaggerating or imaging it.
You are talking to the Taliban, to Hamid Karzai and to Abdullah Abdullah. What shape and form do you think will the new government take?
The ground realities dictate that the incoming Afghan government would be under the auspices of the Taliban. Although the Taliban have reiterated that they do not plan on reinstating the Emirate nor monopolize on power, they are yet to start formal negotiations with political parties and elites. We have to wait on the Taliban to arrive at an internal consensus with regards to their stance and proposed structure for the coming political order. Such a plan can then be forwarded to other stakeholders through the formal and final negotiations.
You have been the Prime Minister of Afghanistan before. What role do you see for yourself in the new administration when it is formed?
I have accomplished most of my life goals. I am satisfied with and thankful to Almighty Allah for the withdrawal of NATO troops, the end of the conflict, the overthrow of the corrupt and warmongering puppet regime and the dissolution of the power block that aimed at weakening our national unity. These are all achievements I’m willing to be content with. I’m willing to unconditionally support the Taliban in consolidating the security/law and order sector as well as the formation of a centralized government. Our support is not conditional with any power-sharing.
Pakistan is considered by most countries in the world, especially India, to be a safe haven for terrorism and extremism. What role can Afghanistan play in removing Pakistan’s negative mindset and influence?
I believe that everyone has understood the fact that insecurity, conflict and the presence of terrorist outfits or states are to the detriment of all. Pakistan is second only to Afghanistan in how much it has been affected due to all these conflicts. Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, labelled Pakistan’s support of the US invasion of Afghanistan as a mistake that he would not repeat. He also stated that their only expectation from Afghanistan is that India not use its soil against Pakistan’s interests. Future governments of Afghanistan should be non-aligned and should strive to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a site for political, intelligence, military and economic rivalries. Previous experiences have shown that every time Kabul has aligned with a regional or global rival, it has always led to conflict. Past alignments with the US and Soviet Union have gone on to prove that point, a bloody history we should diligently avoid.
What is your attitude towards China? Will you support Islamic fighters in East Turkestan if you are in power?
We are in dire need of security and development to compensate for the forty-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. We need to heal from our wounds before we can think about other issues especially those concerning the world beyond our borders.
To get international recognition all world countries are saying that Afghanistan should have a broad-based govt. How do you see that happening?
No foreign state should give itself the right to threaten, pressurize or demand the imposition of foreign desires on the Afghan people. We see single-party governments predominately across the globe. From the US to Russia, China and all of Europe, even some of our neighbours, there are no coalition governments based on power-sharing agreements between political and ethnic entities. Why should Afghanistan be an exception to the rule and be demanded to form a broad-based government? Let Afghans decide their fate and future themselves, free of foreign pressures and involvement. Such pressure and involvement have not produced positive results in the past and would not do so in the future. A better alternative to the term broad-based would be the usage of the term “government approved by the majority of the populace”. Rather than insist on a coalition and power-sharing arrangements, weight should be given to free and transparent elections. It is pertinent that the world recognizes any government formed to an understanding among Afghans. Tactics of pressure and demands should be avoided.
The US and its allies, during its occupation of Afghanistan, for the past two decades centralized all authority into a government it recognized that was in truth run by a small ethnic minority. Five ministries and six hundred generals were handed to one district of the country. No state protested this monopoly of power by one ethnic group that was allied with the West or demanded a broad-based government. No one noticed the absence of the most popular political parties from such a government.
How do you perceive the manner in which the Americans have withdrawn from Afghanistan?
The manner of the foreign withdrawal was appalling and contrary to all humanitarian standards. It was coupled with savagery, bloodshed and destruction. American troops damaged the equipment and facilities of the airport beyond repair. They evacuated bases, after complete destruction of equipment and facilities, in the dead of the night and without any notice to the Afghan government. The last days of their presence in Afghanistan were tainted with hundreds of deaths, injuries, destruction and devastation. In the twin bomb blasts near the Kabul airport that killed 13 American soldiers, the US military reacted savagely and vindictively. They brutally and indiscriminately opened fire on common civilians who were camped near the airport trying to fly out and seek refuge in foreign countries, the casualties of which were more than a hundred dead and more than two hundred injured. We can say that their departure was filled with vengefulness and hatred towards Afghans - both friends and foe.
Do you want to be and will you be part of a future government in Afghanistan?
The structure and composition of the government based on the circumstances of the country and its national interests are decisions that the Taliban would have to make. We hope that they are mindful of all these aspects while taking the necessary decisions.
Why do so many Afghan citizens want to leave the country? Why is there such desperation to leave?
I can state with confidence that this exodus was unexpected. It was a result of bad policies and hostile intentions by intelligence networks attempting to defame the Taliban. The intention was to use this propaganda to show the unwillingness of the citizens of Kabul to live under the Taliban rule. It was aimed at showing Afghan desperation to flee the country and find refuge elsewhere. The staged nature of the crowds at the airport and runways, the convenient set up of cameras and the broadcasting of scenes of people clinging to the planes and falling to their deaths were all meant to discredit the Taliban. The United States managed to manufacture this reality by announcing to the nation that all who wanted to flee the country could come to the airport and would be allowed to board planes even without travel documents. How could that have led to any different outcome? If such an announcement is made even in Delhi, would we not see a larger crowd gathering outside their airport and be witness to such horrendous scenes?
What kind of a society do you want to see in Afghanistan? What is your vision for the country as you have been a veteran of Afghanistan’s many struggles?
A free, independent, non-aligned, war-free Afghanistan that has a government that is representative of our Muslim and national values. Such is the Afghanistan the majority of our faithful nation desires.
What will be the role of women in new Afghanistan? Can they work, study and be part of the government?
Women in an Islamic Afghanistan will enjoy all their inalienable human and Islamic rights. They shall feel more valued than women of any other country since the rights and privileges given to women in Islam are far more progressive and equal compared to all other schools of thought and systems. The right of women to work and get educated is not only fully guaranteed in Islam without discrimination but they at times have more privilege than men. No one has the right to deprive women of these inalienable and God-given rights.
Internationally now it is being seen that the Taliban is equal to Pakistan. Pakistan played a major role in the struggle of the Taliban. India has its own fears about Pakistan and the Taliban. How do you see those fears?
It is up to the Taliban to provide a clear and convincing response to this propaganda by showing their independence and not relying on any country, near or far. India instead of expressing fears and purporting propaganda regarding its rival Pakistan should choose a more constructive path. It should reconsider its failed policies regarding Afghanistan and make up for its historical blunders of supporting groups affiliated with the two occupiers (the Soviet Union and the United States of America).
Taliban leadership has repeatedly said that they will not allow their soil to be used against any country. Do you think they will remain committed and will not interfere in the Kashmir issue which Pakistan is trying to resolve through terror activities?
Taliban must remain committed to their pledge of not allowing Afghan soil to be used against any nations interests. Afghans do not want the Kashmir conflict exported to Afghanistan. Neither do they want the Indian and Chinese border disputes, the issue of Tibet nor the rivalries relating to Gawadar damn or Chahbahar port to be exported to Afghanistan.
I would also like to emphasize that Afghanistan’s soil can be used against its neighbours more effectively than it can be against other non-neighbouring nations. India should not have such apprehensions. If their apprehensions arise from the refuge they’ve given to the opposition then they should simply refrain from giving such refuge. India by providing political asylum to the opposition of the incoming Afghan government and by giving them a platform to conduct activities against the government, would be forcing the Taliban to act in kind.
What role do you want India to play in new Afghanistan?
I would like to see India play a positive and constructive role in Afghanistan, contrary to their role in the past four decades. It chose to support the invasion and occupation of both the Soviet Union and the United States of America instead of supporting the Afghan cause for freedom. It should also refrain from supporting puppet regimes of foreign occupiers.
There is concern around the world that Afghanistan will once again become a base for terrorism. Do you agree?
Afghanistan has never been a haven for foreign terrorists nor will it be one now. The concept of terrorism is foreign to Afghanistan, it is an imported phenomenon caused by foreign invasions. The end of the foreign occupation will spell the end of terrorism in the country. We have been victims of state terrorism. Terrorism is orchestrated by intelligence networks in service of the occupiers.
Afghanistan had hundreds and thousands of Hindus and Sikhs but only a handful remain now. What is the message from that about inclusivity and acceptance of other religions?
All refugees, whose numbers exceed six million, and all citizens who have had to flee Afghanistan due to the war and insecurity have a claim to this land and should return to it. The incoming government has a responsibility towards ensuring their safety. We will always stand for their inalienable rights.
(This is an email interview, where questions in English were replied in Persian and later translated into English)