Hekmatyar’s not-so-quiet diplomacy in Nuristan

Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbudin Hekmatyar was seen out and about in Nuristan earlier this spring. Here’s (maybe) why

Not one to shy away from making trouble, Nuristan provincial governor Jamaluddin Badr did his best earlier this year to discredit one of his subordinates—and rivals—the nominally pro-government Hezb-i-Islami strongman, Maulawi Sadeq, sources have told me.

Sadeq came over to the government last year, and is credited with keeping a lid on things in Kamdesh district. But as Badr tried to turn local elders against Sadeq, everyone began to fear a change of leadership. Enter Hekmatyar. After attending Friday prayers in Kamdesh in late March or early April, he made a point of being seen about town.

“Whether or not that’s what he normally does, it sends a message of support [to Kamdeshis], to show that Hezb-i-Islami has invested there and they’re not going anywhere,” a Western diplomat says. Hekmatyar paid Kamdesh a second visit later in April, presumably for the same reason.

Kamdesh has become Hezb-i-Islami’s last real bastion in Nuristan, as it cedes swathes of the province to the Afghan Taliban and, to some extent, Lashkar-e-Taiba. It was Taliban, rather than Hezb-i-Islami fighters, who briefly raised the Emirate’s white flag over Du Ab district centre in late May, for example. (Taking Du Ab helps the Taliban isolate the provincial capital, Parun.)

HiG seems a bit more determined to hang on to Kamdesh. “The local Taliban and the ISI want [Kamdesh, too,] but Maulawi Sadeq has a lot of local support,” one source says. “So they have no choice but to be cordial. My sense is they don’t want to waste their resources fighting another insurgent faction. HiG is supposed to be supporting them.”

Sadeq is playing it several ways—holding down the district center in the name of the Afghan government, turning a blind eye to rebel fighters passing through Kamdesh’s outer reaches, and all-the-while retaining the patronage of Hekmatyar. If that seems contradictory, it fits with HiG’s stated avowal to attack foreigners, not the Afghan government.

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