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Gandhara Podcast: Hekmatyar’s Return

An Afghan man rides on his bicycle past a banner with pictures of Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Kabul on May 2.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of Afghanistan’s most prominent Islamist leaders, is back in Kabul as part of a comprehensive peace deal with the government after more than two decades of self-imposed exile.

As leader of Hizb-e Islami, a leading anti-Soviet jihadist faction in the 1980s, Hekmatyar has been a leading character in the various cycles of wars in Afghanistan during the past four decades.

An Islamist firebrand from the 1970s through the ’90s, Hekmatyar has been accused of grave atrocities including the killing of thousands of civilians. A gray-bearded Hekmatyar, nearly 70, now advocates peace and termed the Taliban violence as “unholy” and called on Afghans to educate women.

While most prominent members of his party have been part of the successive Afghan administrations since 2002, many Afghans and outside observers are asking what warlord Hekmatyar’s return means for the country struggling with a growing Taliban insurgency, corruption, and hostile neighbors.

Will his return provide a much-needed boost to the peace process and attract the Taliban to the negotiating table? Is Hekmatyar, known as one of the most divisive figure in recent Afghan history, capable of uniting or at least living in peace with his former foes in the Afghan government?

To answer these and many more questions, we turned to a panel of experts. Rahimullah Samandar, president of the Afghan Journalists Association, filled us in on ground realities from Kabul. Andrew Wilder, vice president of the Asia Program at the United States Institute of Peace, and Michael Kugleman, a South Asia specialist at the Wilson Center, shared insights from Washington. RFE/RL Media Manager Muhammad Tahir moderated our discussion from the same town. I contributed from Prague.

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Gandhara Podcast: Hekmatyar’s Return
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The views expressed in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.