Anxious to accelerate peace moves, top-level US officials have held talks with a representative of an insurgent movement led by a former Afghan prime minister who has been branded a terrorist by Washington, a relative of the rebel leader said.
Ghairat Baheer, a representative and son-in-law of longtime Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, told The Associated Press this week that he had met separately with CIA Director David Petraeus and had face-to-face discussions earlier this month with US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and US Marine General John Allen, currently the top commander in the country.
Baheer, who was released in 2008 after six years in US detention at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, described his talks with US officials as nascent and exploratory. Yet, Baheer said the discussions show that the US knows that in addition to getting the blessing of Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar — a bitter rival of Hekmatyar even though both are fighting international troops — any peace deal would have to be supported by Hekmatyar, who has thousands of fighters and followers primarily in the north and east.
Hizb-i-Islami, which means “Islamic Party,” has had ties to al-Qaeda, but in 2010 floated a 15-point peace plan during informal meetings with the Afghan government in Kabul. At the time, however, US officials refused to see the party’s delegation.
“Hizb-i-Islami is a reality that no one can ignore,” Baheer said during an interview last week at his spacious home in a posh suburb of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. “For a while, the United States and the Kabul government tried not to give so much importance to Hizb-i-Islami, but now they have come to the conclusion that they cannot make it without Hizb-i-Islami.”
In Washington, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden would not confirm that such meetings took place, but said the US was maintaining “a range of contacts in support of an Afghan-led reconciliation process.”
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the high-level meetings, said Petraeus last met with Baheer in July last year, when he was still commanding NATO forces in Afghanistan. Petraeus took over as CIA director in September.
On Saturday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he also had met recently with Hizb-i-Islami representatives. Baheer said he attended those meetings, but added that the party considers the Afghan government corrupt and lacking legitimacy.
Baheer said his meeting with Petraeus, whom he described as a “very humble, polite person,” was marked by a few rounds of verbal sparring with each boasting a battlefield strength that the other dismissed as exaggerated.
“There was a psychological war in these first meetings,” he said.
Baheer said Crocker and Allen tried to persuade Hizb-i-Islami to become part of Afghanistan’s political network, accept the Afghan security forces and embrace the nation’s current constitution. He said Hizb-i-Islami was ready to accept the security forces and the constitution, but wants a multiparty commission established to review and revise the charter.
“We are willing to make compromises,” Baheer said. “We already have said we will accept the Afghan army and the police.”
He said Hizb-i-Islami envisioned a multiparty government in postwar Afghanistan. At the same time, the group wants all US and NATO forces, including military trainers, to leave Afghanistan, he said.