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Afghan Official: Peace Deal With Armed Group Expected Soon

  • Associated Press

Afghan policemen keep watch during a battle with the Taliban in Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 11, 2016.

Afghan policemen keep watch during a battle with the Taliban in Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 11, 2016.

The Afghan government is expected to finalize a peace deal with a notorious militant insurgent group within days, marking a breakthrough in attempts to end the 15-year war, an official and a representative of the group said on Saturday.

Ataul Rahman Saleem, deputy head of Kabul's High Peace Council, told The Associated Press that the deal with the armed wing of Hezb-i-Islami could be completed on Sunday, after two years of negotiations.

A senior representative of Hezb-i-Islami, Amin Karim, also said he expected President Ashraf Ghani to approve the final version of the agreement on Sunday.

Such a deal would mark a much-needed success for Ghani in forging peace with insurgent groups fighting to overthrow the Kabul administration.

FILE - This image made from video released to the Associated Press during the week of Nov. 21, 2015 shows Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, now in his late 60s, in an undisclosed location.

FILE - This image made from video released to the Associated Press during the week of Nov. 21, 2015 shows Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, now in his late 60s, in an undisclosed location.

His attempts to open a dialogue with the Taliban, mainly with overtures to the Pakistan government which is believed to support it, have failed.

Hezb-i-Islami is led by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, best known for killing thousands of people in Kabul during the 1992-1996 civil war.

He is believed to be in Pakistan, though Karim has said he is in an unspecified location in Afghanistan. Under the terms of the 25-point agreement, a draft of which has been seen by AP, he could soon return to Kabul to sign a formal peace deal and take up residence.

Hekmatyar, in his late 60s, is designated a "global terrorist" by the United States and blacklisted by the United Nations along with Osama bin Laden. The agreement obliges the Afghan government to do what it can to have the restrictions lifted.

Hezb-i-Islami has only intermittently been active on the battlefield in recent years; its last known major attack was in 2013, when at least 15 people, including six American soldiers, were killed in Kabul.

Saleem said Hekmatyar's associates, including his family, all appeared united behind him and "are not dissenting with their leader."

Negotiations began in July 2014, Karim said, when Hekmatyar received a letter from Ghani, then campaigning to become president, noting that one of Hekmatyar's key conditions for peace -- the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan -- was about to be met.

"That was the beginning," Karim said.

Progress stalled after U.S. President Barack Obama decided to leave a 10,000-strong force in the country through to the end of 2016 until Hekmatyar dropped the condition and renamed it "a goal" earlier this year.

Karim and a number of Afghan officials have said that a peace agreement with Hekmatyar's group could encourage Taliban fighters to end their participation in the war, and eventually lead to a full-blown peace.

Others, however, regard Hekmatyar as politically irrelevant and lacking any real influence.

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