When Gulbuddin Hekmatyar returned to Kabul on May 9 after two decades in hiding, the former warlord received a hero’s welcome by authorities who had struck the peace deal that ushered him back. His convoy was escorted by helicopters and armed police. His supporters gleefully marched through the streets of the Afghan capital and drove pickup trucks showing off their machine guns and grenade launchers. In the presidential palace, a red carpet was rolled out for Hekmatyar, along with other former mujahedeen leaders accused of war crimes.

Longtime Afghan faction leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks in one of his first public appearances after nearly 20 years in hiding as he returned to Kabul in recent weeks following a peace deal with the government. (Tolo TV screenshot)
Longtime Afghan faction leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks in one of his first public appearances after nearly 20 years in hiding as he returned to Kabul in recent weeks following a peace deal with the government. (Tolo TV screenshot)

But the warm embrace by government officials does not necessarily extend to the people of Kabul. Many remember the havoc, bloodshed and devastation Hekmatyar inflicted on the city during the inter-factional fight for control of Kabul among militant groups in the 1990s.

Hekmatyar has factional supporters, and indeed many other mujahedeen warlords have much blood on their hands and have avoided any accountability. But to many Afghans, Hekmatyar remains a particularly notorious warlord who assassinated hundreds if not thousands of intellectuals in Afghanistan and Pakistan during that time. His militia, Hezb-e-Islami, which is being normalized today as a political party, was responsible for such atrocities as throwing acid at educated Afghan refugee women and raining rockets down on Kabul, killing thousands of people and internally displacing many more.

Kabul residents remember Hekmatyar’s group blocking the supply road to the capital city, forcing women and young children to walk for miles just to buy a sack of flour or cooking oil. Many men who tried to make the journey on foot through Hezb-e-Islami’s stronghold in the Char-Asyab district, approximately eight miles south of Kabul, never made it back alive.

But now the Afghan government’s peace deal with Hekmatyar, in which he renounced violence and pledged to abide by the country’s constitution, is being hailed as a historic achievement by local authorities and foreign diplomats. As recently as 2003, the U.S. State Department listed him as a terrorist, accusing Hekmatyar of participating in and supporting attacks by al-Qaida and the Taliban.

To reach the deal, Hekmatyar’s name was taken off the United Nations terrorist list. He and his men are getting free accommodation and security in Kabul. But instead of expressing remorse for his crimes against civilians, or asking forgiveness, Hekmatyar is urging people to forget the past.

Is that even possible? Would an effort by Afghans to simply erase Hekmatyar’s war crimes from their memories bring the necessary closure to allow the fragile country to develop long-term democratic institutions?

Hardly. Unless past crimes are addressed in a fair manner in accordance with Afghanistan’s laws and the country’s obligations under international treaties, the future cannot be stable and the violence will spill into future generations. Research by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission as well as international human rights bodies has uncovered ample evidence of atrocities on all sides of the conflict that victims want addressed.

That’s why an Afghan citizens’ group recently sent a petition to the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) requesting justice for the victims of crimes allegedly committed by Hekmatyar and his group.

In response, the head of UNAMA said, “Afghan citizens and others who have been victims of atrocities must not be deprived of their right to judicial redress.”

Any attempt by the Afghan government or the international community to strike a peace deal with those responsible for war crimes must ensure accountability and justice.

Put simply, there is no peace without justice.

Related Publications

Amid a Spike in Violence, Have Afghan Peace Talks Lost Momentum?

Amid a Spike in Violence, Have Afghan Peace Talks Lost Momentum?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

By: Johnny Walsh

After rapid progress in early 2019, the Afghan peace process has seemingly slowed. The U.S. chief negotiator, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, said in May that his negotiations with the Taliban were making slow but steady progress, but there has been little headway in starting talks among the various Afghan parties. Meanwhile, violence has ratcheted up, as typically occurs in the spring and summer in Afghanistan. The country’s overdue presidential polls are scheduled for late September, further complicating efforts to achieve peace. Can talks succeed amid the violence and political discord? Will the elections drain momentum from the peace process? USIP’s Johnny Walsh looks at the Afghan peace process ahead of the next round of talks in late June.

Peace Processes

Women in Conflict: Advancing Women’s Role in Peace and Security

Women in Conflict: Advancing Women’s Role in Peace and Security

Thursday, June 13, 2019

By: Palwasha L. Kakar

Palwasha Kakar, senior program officer for religion and inclusive societies, testified on June 13 at the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues' hearing on "Women in Conflict: Advancing Women's Role in Peace and Security.” Her expert testimony as prepared is presented below.

Gender; Peace Processes

Perspectives on Peace from Taliban Areas of Afghanistan

Perspectives on Peace from Taliban Areas of Afghanistan

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

By: Ashley Jackson

Notably absent from the debate around peace in Afghanistan are the voices of those living in parts of the country that have borne the brunt of the fighting since 2001—particularly those living in areas under Taliban control or influence. This report provides insight into how Afghan men and women in Taliban-influenced areas view the prospects for peace, what requirements would have to be met for local Taliban fighters to lay down their arms, and how views on a political settlement and a future government differ between Taliban fighters and civilians.

Reconciliation

Belquis Ahmadi on the Afghan Peace Process

Belquis Ahmadi on the Afghan Peace Process

Thursday, May 16, 2019

By: Belquis Ahmadi

Reflecting on recent conversations in Doha and Kabul, USIP’s Belquis Ahmadi says that Afghans told her they want peace, but are not willing to sacrifice the hard-won gains of the last 18 years to get there. As U.S.-Taliban talks move forward, the extent of the Taliban’s evolution on issues like women’s rights remains in question. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” says Ahmadi.

Gender; Peace Processes

View All Publications