Former Afghan mujahideen leader Gulbaddin Hekmatyar’s name was recently removed from the United Nations Security Council’s ‘blacklist’ and all sanctions against him were lifted, but his critics and those who claim they suffered at his hands in the past are still unwilling to forgive him.
Those same Afghans have now filed a petition with the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) seeking justice for alleged victims of Hekmatyar.
The details in the petition haven’t been made public by UNAMA. Obviously, it would contain incidents of violence in which Hekmatyar was allegedly directly involved. It is unclear which period of time has been covered while detailing the incidents for which they hold Hekmatyar responsible.
In a way, the UN system in general and UNAMA in particular has been caught unawares and put in a difficult situation. The UN Security Council, obviously due to lobbying by the United States backed by the other two Western powers United Kingdom and France that are its members, had secured support of Russia and China to pave the way for lifting sanctions against Hekmatyar so that he could join the political mainstream following his peace deal with the Afghan government. This facilitated his return to Kabul on May 5 after spending nearly 20 years in hiding.
Like most countries and international organisations, the UNAMA had warmly welcomed the peace agreement. Many Afghans and human rights groups, mostly Western, had criticised the peace deal as they felt Hekmatyar and his men ought to be made accountable for their violent past. They accused Hekmatyar and his party, Hezb-i-Islami, of committing human rights violations during the long years of the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupying forces and later when struggle for power triggered civil war. Hekmatyar and his men were also accused of attacking Nato soldiers in Afghanistan while waging war against the foreign forces until signing of the peace deal with the national unity government of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr Abdullah in September 2016. This was one of the reasons the US had declared Hekmatyar a ‘specially designated global terrorist’ in 2003 and successfully lobbied with the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on him.
The UNAMA chief Tadamichi Yamamoto, who is also the UN Secretary General’s special representative for Afghanistan and hails from Japan, tried to defend his organisation’s position after issuing a statement about receiving the petition from the unnamed Afghans against Hekmatyar. He pointed out that UNAMA had welcomed agreements that contribute to a reduction of violence in Afghanistan and allowed Afghans to live in peace with each other. According to Yamamoto, UNAMA was encouraged by the progress in implementing the Afghan government’s agreement with the Hezb-i-Islami (Hekmatyar). Stressing that attention to human rights was of critical importance, he made it clear that Afghan citizens and others who have been victims of atrocities must not be deprived of their right to judicial redress.
It would be difficult for UNAMA to do much concerning the petition filed with it against Hekmatyar, who was granted immunity under the terms of his peace deal with the Afghan government. The UN Security Council has already deleted his name from its ‘blacklist’ meaning he is no longer sanctioned or wanted.
In the unlikely event of UNAMA proceeding further in the case and ensuring that Hekmatyar is investigated on the basis of the petition brought up against him, the Afghan government’s peace agreement with Hekmatyar painstakingly negotiated over a period of almost two years would be jeopardised. The Afghan government could resist any such move to investigate and prosecute Hekmatyar as it would severely damage the fragile peace process.
At this point in time, there is no real possibility that Hekmatyar would be brought to justice. This could happen only if his peace agreement with the Afghan government collapses and the latter initiates a petition against him and raises the issue at international forums. This is something far-fetched as there is no such precedent in Afghanistan.
Afghan warlords have committed human rights abuses in an unprecedented way. Some of these were war crimes. Nobody has yet been tried and punished in Afghanistan for human rights violations.
Barring a few, drug barons and traffickers too have largely escaped arrest and conviction. Those accused of high levels of corruption also haven’t faced accountability, though President Ashraf Ghani in his early days in office reopened the long forgotten case of Kabul Bank scandal and punished some of the accused and recovered part of the looted funds.
If Hekmatyar is involved in human rights violations, so are scores of other warlords, including former mujahideen leaders, ex-communist elite and Taliban commanders. The Afghan government and the international community couldn’t even prosecute Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rasheed Dostum, who is presently Afghanistan’s First Vice President, for violating every law and killing and maiming with impunity. In fact, even now he is wanted in the kidnapping, torture and rape of his political rival Ahmad Eshchi, but the government failed to act against him and instead allowed him to leave for Turkey, where he is treated with respect owing to his Turkic ethnic lineage.
Hekmatyar could also benefit from a law passed quietly in 2010 by the mujahideen-dominated Afghan Parliament that granted blanket immunity to all the members of the armed factions for acts committed before the Taliban’s ouster in late 2001.
Despite condemnation by the UN at the time and concern expressed by a few Afghan politicians such as Malalai Joya and some Afghan and foreign human rights activists, President Hamid Karzai had signed it into law. This set a bad precedent and making Hekmatyar alone accountable for his past misdeeds after giving immunity to all other warlords and foot-soldiers won’t meet the ends of justice.