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Leadership Divide Threatens Afghan Islamist Party

FILE: An Afghan man rides on his bicycle past a banner with pictures of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Kabul.
FILE: An Afghan man rides on his bicycle past a banner with pictures of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Kabul.

The leaders of an Afghan Islamist political party are wrangling over who calls the shots in the organization, considered a major player in the country’s political arena.

Former Economy Minister Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal says nobody can force him out of Hizb-e Islami, which is still registered under his name.

Arghandiwal, Mohammad Khan, and Abdul Basir Anwar were forced out of the party on March 13 by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who founded Hizb-e Islami in the 1970s.

“Nobody can force us out of this party because we registered it [as a legal entity],” Arghandiwal told Radio Free Afghanistan on March 14. “This party is our home. We have made sacrifices for it, and we are determined to uphold it.”

A day earlier, Hizb-e Islami announced it had dismissed the three leaders for “working against the goals and demands of the party,” a statement noted.

It accused the three of establishing contacts and alliances with other parties, saying Hizb-e Islami was recognized by the Afghan government after the group signed a peace agreement last year.

“From now on, Arghandiwal cannot operate under the name of Hizb-e Islami, but he can choose another name [for his organization],” the statement said. “Hizb-e Islami has a long history, and its leader is Hekmatyar.”

FILE: Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal
FILE: Abdul Hadi Arghandiwal

The public rupture highlights years of disagreements and the months of failed behind-the-scenes talks aimed at reuniting Hizb-e Islami under Hekmatyar’s leadership.

The party was a major anti-Soviet mujahedin faction that received a lion’s share of the covert assistance provided by the United States, Pakistan, and allies to Islamist factions fighting the Red Army-allied socialist Afghan government in the 1980s.

In the 1990s, it became a major player in the fratricidal civil war. After the demise of the Taliban regime in 2001, Hekmatyar declared jihad against the United States in late 2002. Unlike other mujahedin factions that joined the Western-backed government in Kabul, many of his supporters stayed away.

But some senior Hizb-e Islami figures joined the new government. In 2005, Arghandiwal registered Hizb-e Islami, and many former members went on to become lawmakers, governors, and cabinet members.

Khan has served as the first deputy of Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah after he joined President Ashraf Ghani in the national unity government in September 2014. Anwar is the current justice minister.

Their expulsion marks the possible end of efforts by the organization’s leaders to unite it under Hekmatyar’s leadership following his return to Kabul last May after concluding a peace agreement with the Afghan government.

“This rift will naturally affect the morale and efforts of Hizb-e Islami,” said Shah Mahmood Miakhel, country director of the United States Institute of Peace in Afghanistan.

He says most former leftist, nationalist, and Islamist political parties in Afghanistan have fragmented into factions. “This has become a tradition in Afghanistan,” he noted.

Miakhel says the two factions of the party are likely to be recognized as distinct political parties in the current legal framework.

“This division is a problem for them and will overshadow their future politics,” he said.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Najia Safi’s reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.