The Hekmatyar Factor


I said a while back that I’d be interested in reading a profile of Soviet-era mujahedeen leader, brutal sociopath, and current anti-American insurgent Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Michael Crowley delivers in TNR. He’s a fascinating character in a horrifying sort of way, and according to Crowley cutting a deal with him may play an important role in our Afghan policy:

A deal with Hekmatyar could give Obama’s prospects in Afghanistan a huge boost. Even now, American troops are hard-pressed to pacify southern Afghanistan, and the United States can ill afford to see the north slip any further into chaos. Disarming Hekmatyar’s fighters, sometimes estimated to number in the thousands, would be a major strategic boost. And, if a hardened anti-American warlord like Hekmatyar were to renounce violence, that could set an example for his Pashtun admirers throughout the region. […]

Still, cutting a deal with Hekmatyar that grants him legitimized power could amount to a horrendous moral compromise. The Afghan people remember well the blood on Hekmatyar’s hands. “In the urban part of the civil society, it will be like a bomb that will destroy the image of the government,” says Riccardo Redaelli, an Italian academic who studies Afghan politics. Nor is empowering a man who advocates strict Islamic law likely to play well in the United States. “Hekmatyar is a pretty difficult character to sell to the American people,” says Riedel.

Another issue is that with a figure like Hekmatyar, who’s essentially been fighting his whole life, you have to wonder if he really wants to make a deal. Some people fight because they want power and thus are willing to accept a bargain in which they get some power and agree to stop fighting. But though Hekmatyar’s engaged in a bewildering series of deals and double-crosses in his career, he’s really never stopped fighting. He’s really good at being an irregular warfare commander, is he going to be any good at sharing power in a civilian government?