Hezbe Wahdat - Political Strategy

Political Strategy

The idea of building an Islamic government and promoting religious fraternity rapidly ran into difficulties. Hizb-e Wahdat’s stance as the representative of the Hazara mujahedin was not welcomed by its Sunni counterparts in Peshawar. Instead, it was effectively excluded from the negotiations around the formation of a mujahedin government in Kabul, which were dominated by the Sunnis. A Hizb-e Wahdat delegation to Peshawar, sent to negotiate a possible inclusion in the process, returned to Bamyan badly disappointed. In a central council meeting in Bamyan, the delegation headed by Abdul Ali Mazari raised the issue of deliberating a new political strategy. Some of the Sunni fundamentalist parties had basically ignored the Shiite claims of any form of effective representation in a future government. In opposition to Hizb-e Wahdat’s demand of a quarter share in future power-sharing arrangements, some of the Sunni parties stated that the Shiites did not count as a significant community, deserving to be included in the negotiation process.

Three days of deliberations in the party’s central council in Bamyan produced a new strategy: working out an alliance of the country’s historically deprived ethnic communities. This new strategy was to be pursued with the military commanders of various communities in the provinces rather than with the leaders in Peshawar. Government officials of various ethnic communities were also contacted to join or support the new alliance. The new strategy was communicated with various political and military players in the country through delegations and representatives. Fifty delegations were dispatched to several parts of the country, including the Panjshir valley and the northern province of Balkh. Members of the delegations were tasked with exploring a common political strategy for collectively bargaining over the rights of minorities in future political arrangements. The delegations to Panjshir and the north of the country reached important agreements with Massoud and the future leaders of the emergent Junbish-e Milli Islami, which underpinned a new political agreement that became known as Paiman-e Jabalu- Seraj, or the Jabalu-seraj agreement named after the area in Parwan province where one of the final negotiations took place in April 1992. Massoud was chosen as head of the new council, Mohammad Mohaqiq from Hizb-e Wahdat as his deputy and General Dostum as commander of its military affairs.

The alliance of Wahdat, Junbesh and Massoud’s Shuray-e Nezar, or Supervisory Council, collapsed as they attempted to take control of Kabul. Similarly, the political arrangements among the Sunni mujahedin organisations also fell apart, turning the city into a battleground for the most devastating and atrocious conflicts. Wahdat became an important part of the conflict for nearly three years. This provoked intense internal debates within the party. The questions of external alignments further inflamed the internal tensions. Muhammad Akbari rose as leader of a pro-Massoud camp within the party, challenging the wisdom of Abdul Ali Mazari’s refusal to join Mohammad Rabbani’s and Massoud’s government and his participation in an alliance with Hekmatyar, the leader of Hizb-i Islami, who had emerged as the main opposition.

The differences between Abdul Ali Mazari and Akbari resulted into the first major split within the party. After the split, both leaders maintained separate political and military organisations under the name of Wahdat, with Abdul Ali Mazari maintaining the main body of the party. The growing rivalries and tensions between the two leaders surfaced strongly in the preparations for the party’s leadership election in September 1994. The election was held amid a heightened competition between the two contending figures for leadership of the party. The party was experiencing its most difficult internal power struggle since it had been formed. New political fault lines were emerging as the party leaders tried to define and articulate their political agendas in Kabul. Both sides were determined to win in order to dominate leadership positions and consequently change the political direction of the party. The venue for the forthcoming elections also proved to be contentious. Akbari was pressing for the elections to be held in Bamyan where he felt stronger. By contrast, Mazari and his supporters pushed for elections in Kabul where he had cultivated a larger support base among urbanised Hazaras. Given the political differences and personal rivalries between the two leaders, the first election of the secretary general of the party was hotly contested. It was also particularly sensitive given the context of the civil war in Kabul, with regards to which both figures were proposing different political directions for the party. Akbari hoped he could alter the role of the party in the war and in the conflict in Kabul in favour of Rabbani’s government through his election as secretary general of the party. Consequently, the election of secretary general gained a paramount importance for both sides in the civil war to maintain or change the political alignments of the party in their favour.

The elections were held amid a climate of distrust and violence. By gaining 43 votes (out of 82 members of the central council present), Abdul Ali Mazari was re-elected as leader. Akbari with 33 votes was elected as his first deputy. Similarly, agreements were reached on 20 other key appointments. Akbari’s faction won the positions of heads of cultural and military committees, which they had strongly pressed for. He and his supporters believed that by dominating the cultural and military committees they could manipulate the war and propaganda machine of the party in favour of the Rabbani government, their external ally. Karim Khalili, who would later become the leader of the party, was elected as chief of its political affairs committee. The voting patterns during the elections offer important insights into the internal politics of the party. Members of Nasr and Pasdaran, the two largest and most powerful numerically and politically, dominated the process as well as the two emergent factions. While Nasr maintained its cohesiveness, most other smaller organisations were divided. All former members of Nasr in the council voted for Mazari, testifying to the lasting cohesiveness of Nasr as a political block within Wahdat. By contrast, while most former members of Pasdaran supported Akbari, some of them cast their votes for Mazari. For instance, Ali Jan Zahidi, Ghulam Hussain Shafaq, Hayatullah Balaghi and Abdul Ahmed Fayaz, previously important local leaders of Pasdaran, threw their support behind Mazari. Similarly, most former members of Harakat and Nahzat followed Pasdaran, while most of Sazman-e Daawat and Mostazafin supported Mazari. Other organisations such as Shuray-e Ittefaq and Jabh-e Motahid were bitterly divided.

Moreover, distrust and suspicions continued to undermine the new appointments. The role of external players, particularly that of Rabbani’s government, was crucial. It is believed that the Rabbani government had been working through their contacts with Akbari to undermine Mazari and turn Hizb-e Wahdat into an ally. Mazari strongly suspected Akbari of trying to undermine him. A few weeks after the party elections, in response to an alleged coup plan by Akbari and sections of Harakat Islami against him, Mazari ordered his troops to attack and expel all his opponents from the western part of the capital. Consequently, Akbari, his supporters and his allies in Harakat were forced to flee into areas controlled by Massoud in the north of the capital. While the exact details of the alleged plot remain unknown, Mazari later claimed that Qasim Fahim, then Rabbani’s head of the intelligence department, was working with Akbari to militarily force him out of leadership. According to the allegations, Massoud was funding and arming as many as 20,000 troops to allow Akbari to take over Wahdat’s leadership in Kabul and establish its control in Hazarajat as well.

The split opened a deep and long standing political division among the Hazaras of Afghanistan. While Mazari and his successor Khalili commanded the support of most of the Hazaras, Akbari mostly operated in opposition to them. Following the death of Mazari at the hands of the Taliban in March 1995, Karim Khalili was elected as the new party leader. He reorganised the party, re-established control over the Hazarajat region and joined Massoud and Junbesh against the newly emerged Taliban threat in a new alliance called the Supreme Council for Defence of the Motherland, which was later known as the ‘northern alliance’. In contrast, Akbari joined the Taliban when they took control of Bamyan in September 1998.

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