ISLAMABAD— A key Afghan group fighting alongside the Taliban against NATO forces has announced it will formally participate in the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan. Some members of the Afghan insurgency are allegedly hiding in neighboring Pakistan.
The announcement to participate in the election by the Hizb-e-Islami faction is seen as a blow to the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan. Led by fugitive former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the insurgent group is the second largest after the Taliban.
While the Hizb-e-Islami faction fought alongside the Taliban against coalition forces, it had been a rival to the Taliban while it was in power. It has until now stayed away from presidential elections, citing the presence of coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Ghairat Baheer, the head of the so-called political commission of Hizb-e-Islamai, tells VOA the central leadership has instructed supporters across the country “to actively take part" in the election campaign and vote for presidential candidate Qutbuddin Hilal.
Baheer gave details of his group’s central executive committee’s meeting (held on Saturday) where the decision to participate in the election was made.
“The decision was made that Hezb-i-Islami has to support one of the candidates in the coming presidential elections," said Baheer. "So, it was very natural for Hizb-e-Islami to support their own person who used to be a very senior member of Hizb-e-Islam that is Engineer Qutbuddin Hilal. So, that decision was made and it was also decided that our support to Qutbuddin Hilal will be vocal and public.”
Presidential hopeful Hilal had fielded himself as an independent candidate for April 5 polls and he is known to have previously served as head of Hizb-e-Islami’s political commission.
The polls are being described as crucial for future stability in the country and it will be the first time in the troubled Afghan history that power will be transferred through a democratic process. There are 11 candidates in the race for the country’s top post to replace President Hamid Karzai, who is barred by the constitution from running for a third time.
There was no immediate reaction from the Taliban that has condemned the elections as a “U.S.-staged drama and waste of time”. It has also warned Afghans against taking part in the polls. The insurgent group insists “free and fair” elections are not possible as long as Afghanistan “remains under the occupation of foreign invading forces”.
There have been reports of rifts within the Taliban ranks in recent weeks. Critics believe Hizb-e-Islami’s decision to take part in the polls is likely to cause more problems for the insurgency and is expected to increase the legitimacy of the Afghan presidential elections.