Sunday, March 08, 2009

There's the "Taliban", Then There's the Taliban

It's important to know the difference

Ever since Canadian troops began the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the notion of negotiating with the Taliban has been a controversial topic.

Yesterday US President Barack Obama mused that his administration may consider negotiations with the Taliban.

Today Afghan President Hamid Karzai made public his approval with this development.

Considering that it's only a matter of time until certain individuals begin to harp on the subject, it's important to understand precisely what is actually being proposed by this.

While Taliban as become a pervasive blanket term for the entire insurgency in Afghanistan, it's important to understand that there are actually numerous groups that together make up the Taliban.

One of those groups is Hisb-I-Islami, a group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

While Hekmatyar is currently an ally of the Taliban he has, in the past, also been an opponent of the Taliban.

Hekmatyar founded Hisb-I-Islami in 1977 in cooperation with Mulavi Younas Khalis. The group opposed the communist-leaning policies of Hafiullah Amin. Hekmatyar himself had long been involved in the continuing conflict within the country between Islamic and communist thinkers. In 1972 Hekmatyar was accused of murdering a Maoist student and imprisoned for two years.

Hekmatyar first rose to prominence during the Afghan-Soviet war. With support from the CIA, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan Hekmatyar led thousands of Mujahideen against the Soviet Union. However, Hisb-I-Islami had split into two factions at this point, with Khalis leaving to form a rival group.

After the formerly Soviet-backed Kabul government began to collapse in 1992 Hekmatyar attracted the support of most of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan. He then seized control of Afghanistan until he and Hisb-I-Islami were driven out.

In 1993 Hekmatyar was invited to be Prime Minister under President Burhanuddin Rabbani. In 1994, however, Hekmatyar left the government and aligned with Abdul Rashid Dostum. An impassed ensued in which Hekmatyar's forces got bogged down outside of Kabul and in frustration shelled the city.

The bitter civil war continued until 1996, when Hekmatyar and Rabbani again agreed to form a government together. Hekmatyar was to be Prime Minister.

The Taliban would sieze control of much of Afghanistan later in 1996. Hekmatyar would flee to Iran, then later return to fight the Taliban.

Hekmatyar has proven a strangely reliable track record in which he continually demonstrates that he is reliably unreliable as an ally. Basically, he fights with any one particular group until another offers him a better deal, then he switches sides.

The deal the Karzai government is offering Hekmatyar right now would offer him an opportunity to go into asylum in Saudi Arabia, then later return to Afghanistan to join the government.

Whether or not this is a better deal than the one Hekmatyar currently has with the Taliban is essentially best known by Hekmatyar and the Taliban.

But one thing is nearly certain: which ever side Hekmatyar decides to align with he will wind up fighting them sooner or later -- much likely more sooner than later. His previous record has shown this.

That being said, having Hekmatyar as part of the government would at least take him off the field of battle for a span of anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. One can only imagine what Afghan and NATO troops could do with Hekmatyar's Hisb-I-Islami off of their radar screens for that period of time.

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