Notorious warlord and head of Hezb-i-Islami militant group may soon join the political process in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is moving closer to a peace deal with notorious warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, sources said Wednesday, possibly paving the way for his political return after years in hiding despite a history of war crimes.
Hekmatyar, who heads the now largely dormant Hezb-i-Islami militant group, is the latest among a series of warlords whom Kabul has sought to reintegrate into Afghan politics in the post-Taliban era. If inked, the deal with Afghanistan’s second-biggest militant group would mark a symbolic victory for President Ashraf Ghani, who has struggled to revive peace talks with the much more powerful Taliban.
“Both sides are very close to signing the peace deal,” a senior member of Hekmatyar’s negotiating team told AFP on condition of anonymity. “Both parties have reached an agreement on most points of the peace plan. I am hopeful they will reach a consensus on the remaining points very soon.”
According to the 25-point draft agreement seen by AFP, the government will offer Hekmatyar legal immunity in “all past political and military proceedings” as well as release Hezb-i-Islami prisoners. The draft also says the warlord, in his 60s, “can select two or three suitable places for residence in Afghanistan,” with the government obliged to cover all costs and provide necessary security.
Hekmatyar is designated a “global terrorist” by the U.S. and is blacklisted by the U.N. The Afghan government would work towards lifting those restrictions, according to the agreement.
The government said the draft would likely be signed later Wednesday by Hekmatyar’s delegation and Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, responsible for reconciliation efforts with militants, but more work would be needed for a final deal. “We are optimistic and we strongly welcome this agreement,” Mohammad Khan, deputy to Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, told reporters. “This is good news for Afghanistan… as the group gives up its armed insurgency at a critical time,” he added, asserting that Hezb-i-Islami did not demand any government posts or ministries in the agreement.
Hekmatyar was a prominent anti-Soviet commander in the 1980s and stands accused of killing thousands of people in Kabul during the 1992-1996 civil war. He is widely believed to be living in hiding in Pakistan, but his group claims he is inside Afghanistan. The potential deal has sparked revulsion from human rights groups.
“We want peace with militant groups but not at the cost of our people’s rights,” said Seema Samar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. “We are against this blatant culture of impunity.”
The deal is not likely to have an immediate impact on the security situation in Afghanistan. Hezb-i-Islami has been largely inactive in recent years, with its last big attack in Afghanistan in 2013. That killed 15 people including five Americans.
The U.S. State Department on Tuesday said Washington was not involved in the talks but welcomed the potential truce with Hekmatyar.
Wednesday’s development came as representatives from the U.S., China, Pakistan and Afghanistan held another round of negotiations in Islamabad aimed at reviving long-stalled direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Taliban, who were toppled from power in 2001, have refused to engage in talks with the Western-backed Afghan government as they ramp up their offensive against it.