Hezbe Wahdat - Background

Background

Following the collapse of the pro-Soviet Kabul government in the Hazarajat in 1979, the region fell under the control of Shuray-e Ittefaq, a hastily assembled region-wide organization Soon it was challenged and overthrown by several new radical Islamist groups that engaged in endless power and ideological struggles that engulfed the region for most of the 1980s. The wars and conflicts were launched and fought with strong ideological fervor. However, none of the organizations were able to determine the outcome of the war in their favor. Towards the second half of the 1980s a complete stalemate was emerging in the region, with each organization confined to specific pockets of territory. The devastation and atrocities perpetrated during the war were eroding the credibility of their ideologies and leaderships. As a result, there was an overwhelming desire for change felt both by the villagers and senior leaders of the organizations.

Several attempts to make peace and ensure stability failed. Alliances and coalitions were crafted and dismantled. The most important and effective of them were the Shuray-e Eatelaf, an alliance of eight major organizations formed in Tehran, Iran in 1985. It was the most effective attempt to achieve unity of action by the leaderships of the organizations and was to become an important precedent for the formation of Hizb-e Wahdat. However, while the alliance provided the Hazara mujahedin with a common political voice in negotiations and bargaining with the Sunni organizations based in Peshawar, Pakistan, it failed to tackle the incessant infighting on the ground. To stabilize the region a more radical move was required.

With the announcement of the Soviet withdrawal in January 1988, the collapse of the Kabul government was believed to be imminent and a dramatic reconfiguration of political alignments was in the making. This was happening at a time when the Kabul government and the ruling Hizb-e Democratik-e Khalq (People’s Democratic Party, PDPA) were experiencing intensive factional and ethnic rivalries. A declining faith in the future of the government facilitated the emergence of new political alignments largely between members of the same ethnic groups, cutting across the ideological divide between the mujahedin and the PDPA officials. In the meantime, negotiations on the formation of an interim government led by the Sunni organizations based in Peshawar excluded the Hazara alliance based in Tehran. The combined effect of these developments among the Hazara organizations was greater awareness of the need for a more collective and assertive bargaining with their Sunni counterparts if they were to be taken seriously. It was against this background that a more radical demand of unification and merger of all existing political-military organizations into a single party dominated the politics of the region. Several meetings were held throughout the region in which the nature and composition of the new party and the role of existing organizations in it were debated extensively. In August 1988, the provincial centre of Bamyan fell into the hand of Hazara mujahideen. This further facilitated and encouraged the formation of a regional organization. The operation that resulted in the collapse of government in the town was coordinated jointly by different mujahedin forces in the region. Sazman-e Nasr (Victory Organization) played a central and coordinating role in the attack. This development marked the elimination of any presence of the Kabul government within the entire Hazarajat region

Henceforth Bamyan was the centre of important political developments. It injected a new stimulus into the ongoing unification process among the mujahedin organizations in the region. The town hosted the final meeting that resulted in the declaration of the Misaq-e Wahdat, or the unity treaty in July 1989 less than a year after its liberation. It became a centre of political leadership and power for the new party beyond and away from the local factional and personal rivalries of local commanders. What contrasted the negotiation process for the formation of Wahdat with similar previous efforts was that it was essentially a process initiated from within the Hazarajat region. The process was informed and shaped by the realities of war, factionalism and loss of control of the political leaderships over military commanders within the region. Conversely, the previous coalition-building efforts were centered in Iran and were often under the direct influence of the Iranian authorities. Once it was formed, its leaders faced the challenge of convincing their representatives at the Shuray-e Eatelaf and officials of the Iranian government, who were more at ease with dealing with a coalition of separate parties in Tehran. The fragmentation of the Hazara mujahedin had given the Iranians effective leverage to control small organizations, often tied to various religious authorities and government agencies in Iran. The Iranians feared that a single party based inside Afghanistan could mean they would lose control over the movement. Furthermore, the increasingly evident ethnic discourse within the party was seen unfavorably by the Iranian authorities who had for years tried to promote a more pan-Shiite political Islamism during the period of jihad. Husain Ibrahimi, the representative of the Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei in Afghan affairs at that time, is alleged to have tried to prevent the formation of Hizb-e Wahdat in order to maintain his influence. Eventually, once the party was formed, the Iranians decided to work with it and supported it in the early days of its existence. But, as the subsequent course of political developments (discussed below) shows, the party was to pursue a rather independent political strategy, often in conflict with Iranian policies and interests in the country.

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