In a blast from the past in Afghanistan, a warlord who became a model for combining ruthless ambition and destructive methods with radical ideology, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has advised his followers to support the so-called Islamic State or ISIS in fighting against the Afghan Taliban.
While some in the West might see this as one more indication of ISIS spreading its tentacles with an ever-widening reach, a better lesson flows from observing that this is another instance of ISIS being invoked by a protagonist in a local conflict with local objectives. Hekmatyar’s game has always been about seeking power in Afghanistan and bashing opponents of his efforts to do so.
A further lesson comes from noting that it is the Taliban that Hekmatyar finds to be either too moderate or too inconvenient for him right now. It probably is not coincidental that this statement by Hekmatyar comes just as the Afghan government and representatives of the Taliban have concluded what may be the most promising peace negotiations so far that are aimed at resolution of the long-running conflict in Afghanistan.
All of these players — the government, the Taliban, and Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami — are focused on struggles for power in their own country and not on transnational causes. Afghanistan is a nation in which politics and policy largely rest on ad hoc deals among various local power-holders, which are struck in ways that do not correspond to what might make sense to Westerners in terms of recognizable left-right, radical-moderate, or religious-secular dimensions.