A lot happening on the AfPak front.
It’s Pakistan week in Washington, and nearly the entire Pakistan government is in town for meetings with the Obama administration. But the real action is half a world away, where a delegation from the Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Islamic Party (Hezb-i Islami), a key ally of the Taliban, has sent a peace delegation to Kabul for meetings with the Afghan government of President Karzai.
It’s the most important peace initiative since the start of the war in Afghanistan in 2001. And here I make a bold prediction: the war in Afghanistan will be pretty much over by July, 2011. Like the war in Iraq, which is winding down as U.S. forces withdraw, the end of the war in Afghanistan will be messy, a lot of loose ends will be left over, and it will be unsatisfying to all sides.
Let’s remember, first of all, who Hekmatyar is. He’s not exactly an anti-American firebrand. During the CIA-sponsored anti-USSR jihad in the 1980s, he was the prime recipient of aid from Saudi Arabia, the CIA, and Pakistan’s ISI. He had a well-earned reputation as a brutal thug, but then so did many of Karzai’s current warlord allies. During the pre-Taliban civil war of the early 1990s, he was an enthusiastic participant, and since then he’s emerged as an ally of the Taliban, based in Pakistan and quietly receiving covert support from the ISI since 9/11. He is a committed Islamist.
But, according to the New York Times, in a piece by Carlotta Gall, the paper’s long-time reporter in South Asia, Hekmatyar’s delegation to Kabul has proposed a peace plan that is also supported by the Taliban, contingent on the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces. Gall writes:
“Representatives of a major insurgent faction have presented a formal 15-point peace plan to the Afghan government, the first concrete proposal to end hostilities since President Hamid Karzai said he would make reconciliation a priority after his re-election last year. …
“His representatives met Monday with President Karzai and other Afghan officials in the first formal contact between a major insurgent group and the Afghan government after almost two years of backchannel communications, which diplomats say the United States has supported.
“A spokesman for the delegation, Mohammad Daoud Abedi, said the Taliban, which makes up the bulk of the insurgency, would be willing to go along with the plan if a date was set for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.”
The terms of the peace plan, called the National Rescue Agreement, aren’t exactly extremist in nature:
“The Hezb-i-Islami proposal, while categorical about the demand for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan, and to end military operations and detentions, goes some way toward meeting the demands of Western nations and the Afghan government on other issues.