With an eye to an eventual end to the Afghan insurgency, this report examines the struggle within Afghanistan’s National Unity Government over the country’s security sector and the related impact on the recruitment of Hezb-e Islami commanders and fighters in the security forces as agreed to under a 2016 peace deal. Drawing from nearly one hundred interviews with Afghan officials, tribal elders, former jihadi commanders, Taliban commanders, and foreign officials and observers, the report seeks to shed light on the potential challenges that a deal between Kabul and the Taliban might present.

Summary

  • The 2016 peace deal between Afghanistan’s National Unity Government and Hezb-e Islami offered, at least on paper, the opportunity for Hezb commanders and fighters to integrate into the Afghan security sector.
  • Those commanders view their recruitment in the security sector as vital—not only to meet their immediate security needs and as a source of income but also to correct what they perceive as the injustice of their exclusion after the 2001 Bonn Agreement.
  • So far no concrete plan for military integration has materialized, partly because how the integration would unfold is contested.
  • President Ashraf Ghani seeks to depoliticize the security sector. The Jamiat political party of Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, which once dominated the security ministries, has seen its influence under Ghani, a Pashtun, decline and perceives the 2016 peace agreement as the creation of a Pashtun front against it.
  • The 2016 agreement followed on the support of Hezb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s political and armed base for Ghani in the second round of the 2014 elections.
  • Senior commanders’ integration in pro-government militias after the October 2018 parliamentary elections appears to be the path of least political resistance, but would keep Hezb on the margins of the security sector.
  • Hekmatyar’s bargaining position is currently too weak to force military integration on his terms, but his leverage could increase if Hezb-e Islami fares well in the elections.
  • The current failure of the Afghan government to proceed on Hezb integration is likely to reinforce the Taliban’s demand to negotiate first with the United States.
  • As its main donor, the United States wields enormous influence in the Afghan security sector and is seemingly in the position to force a new power-sharing deal in it. Such an outcome, however, would hinge on an improved US-Taliban relationship.

About the Report

This report examines the struggle within Afghanistan’s National Unity Government over the country’s security sector and the related impact on the recruitment of Hezb-e Islami commanders and fighters in the security forces as agreed to under a 2016 peace deal. Drawing from some ninety interviews with Afghan officials, tribal elders, former jihadi commanders, Taliban commanders, and foreign officials and observers, the report is supported by the Asia Center at the United States Institute of Peace.

About the Author

Deedee Derksen has written several reports for USIP on the impact of programs to demobilize and reintegrate nonstate armed groups in Afghanistan. She holds a PhD from King’s College London and was until recently a visiting scholar at Columbia University and a doctoral fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. Previously, Derksen was a correspondent and columnist for de Volkskrant.

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