Kabul — In his first speech after his first public appearance in Afghanistan after nearly two decades underground, warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar called on Taliban insurgents to “join the peace caravan and stop this pointless unholy war.”
He also urged all political parties to reconcile and seek change “without bloodshed.”
In September last year, the Afghan government signed a peace agreement with Hekmatyar and his militant group. In February, the UN Security Council lifted the sanctions imposed on Hekmatyar, which paved the way for his return to Afghanistan and involvement in the political process.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed Hekmatyar’s public return, saying the former strongman would cooperate with the government.
“Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s return will have remarkable effects on peace, stability, prosperity and development in all aspects,” Ghani’s office said in a statement.
The agreement between Hekmatyar and Afghani government has been criticized by human rights groups because of the pardon he was granted. Afghani analysts and activists stated that the return of Hekmatyar and some of his fighter is an insult to the victims.
Hekmatyar was controversial during the Afghani war against the Soviets in the 80s. He was accused of ordering his fighters to bomb Kabul causing several casualties. He was Afghanistan’s prime minister for two brief periods, however, he did not rule Afghanistan sitting in Kabul.
Hezb-i-Islami led by Hekmatyar does not have any significant role in the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan currently. He was designated as a “terrorist” by the US state department in 2003.
Western and US officials praised the deal reached with Hekmatyar, hoping it would lead to a comprehensive peace agreement in Afghanistan.
During his speech, Hekmatyar focused on ending the current war in the country and urged the Taliban to adopt politics rather than war.
No one can rule the country by force, he said.
“If you are working to help Afghanistan, then we are grateful, but if you are fighting here for your own political and economic interests, we ask you to stop using Afghanistan as your rivals’ battlefield and instead face each other directly,” Hekmatyar said to the gathering in Mehtarlam, the capital of Laghman. “Don’t test your ammunition on our oppressed people.”
He stressed that negotiations must be done to achieve stability and peace in Afghanistan, saying that violence and war are not options. He addressed his opposition saying that everyone should forget the past and work together to build a country based on peace.
Hekmatyar’s return was welcomed in eastern Afghanistan by residents who have been exhausted by decades of war.
Between 1992 and 1996, he was known as the brutal warlord who destroyed entire neighborhoods during the civil war, and later took up arms against civilian rulers.
After the September 11 attacks in the US and the ensuing US invasion, Hekmatyar refused to join the new government and declared “Jihad” against foreign troops.
Some analysts believe that his return will further deepen the sectarian and ethnic disagreements thus creating more problems for the government.
Political analyst Ahmad Saeedi said that the Ghani will face more isolation from the allies who supported him during the elections. He added that disagreements between politicians of different ethnic groups are beginning to emerge.