F one lives long enough in Afghanistan, it is possible to have been everything: mujahideen commander, war criminal, political leader, aging military commander and peacemaker too. Gulbadin Hekmatyar inspires passionate debate about what he has meant to Afghanistan and, indeed, about his relevance in that country today. But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has judged that Mr Hekmatyar and the faction of the Hizb-i-Islami (HiG) he leads are worth making a peace deal with, a plan hatched early in the present government`s tenure and that took on more urgency as peace talks with the Afghan Taliban foundered. By all accounts, the peace deal with the HiG, which must be signed by President Ghani and Mr Hekmatyar for it to formally come into effect, will have little direct impact on the security situation in Afghanistan. The HiG is largely non-functional as an insurgent group and its footprint in Afghanistan is considered to be small. The value of the deal for the Afghan government, however, lies in the politics and optics of it. A peace deal with Mr Hekmatyar could help unite the various factions of the HiG, many of which are already in the government fold in Kabul, and give President Ghani another Pakhtun ally in the capital at a time when he is struggling to assert his authority. Moreover, a successful peace deal may help temporarily deflect criticism of the government for failing to either militarily curb the Taliban insurgency or make progress in a peace deal with the Taliban.

Yet, too much should not be read into the deal between the government and the HiG. It could well be the template for future peace deals and help attract some Taliban factions to the possibility of a peace deal of their own, but the majority of the Taliban are unlikely to be swayed by what the Hizb does or, indeed, the government can offer at the moment. The debilitating stalemate in Afghanistan looks set to continue unless Kabul works out how to make its security forces more effective or can use diplomacy and political negotiations to dampen the intensity of the Taliban insurgency. But Kabul appears to be doing the opposite of what it needs to: pulling India into a tighter embrace and working with the US to build pressure on Pakistan is hardly a positive approach in a region where tensions are rising on all fronts. Work with Pakistan, it is the only sensible option for Afghanistan and other interested powers.