In a major move in efforts to end the conflict in Afghanistan, representatives of fugitive Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar have held preliminary peace talks with Afghan negotiators in Kabul.
Hekmatyar, 68, leads the Hezb-e-Islami faction that has staged deadly attacks against the U.S.-led international forces and their Afghan counterparts during the 15-year-old conflict. Hezb-e-Islami is Afghanistan’s second-largest insurgent group after the Taliban.
Its participation in the reconciliation process comes as a four-nation group comprising Afghan, Pakistan, U.S. and Chinese diplomats has been making efforts to arrange peace talks between Kabul and insurgent groups.
Afghan officials allege Hekmatyar - who has been blacklisted by the United Nations - is hiding in Pakistan along with other commanders, just like Taliban leaders are sheltering in the neighboring country and using it for directing insurgent attacks in Afghanistan.
The U.S. State Department designated Hekmatyar a “global terrorist” in 2003 and last week imposed sanctions on two of Hezb-e-Islami's senior explosives experts for their roles in separate attacks in Kabul that also killed six Americans. Hekmatyar briefly served as prime minister of Afghanistan in the 1990's when the country was in the grip of a deadly civil war.
On Thursday, a three-member delegation of the insurgent group headed by Mohammad Amin Karim met with leaders of the government-appointed High Peace Council, officials said.
Later, addressing a news conference in the Afghan capital, Karim said that Hezb-e-Islami wants to solve its problems with the Afghan government through political means to show the people of Afghanistan that it believes in peace. He also invited other groups to join the peace process.
The Afghan insurgent group also has joined forces with the Taliban in carrying out raids around the country.
The head of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan ((UNAMA)), Nicholas Haysom, informed the Security Council on Tuesday that he met with members of the Taliban Political Commission last week to again urge them to join peace talks with the Afghan government.
“They however, reiterated that they were not yet ready to engage directly with the government,” Haysom said.
The Taliban has been saying that unless the U.S.-led “occupation of Afghanistan is ended…such futile, misleading negotiations will not produce any results.”
The Taliban has made unprecedented territorial gains over the past year and seized more Afghan territory than at any point since it was ousted from power in 2001.
Fugitive Taliban chief Mullah Mansoor on Thursday urged his fighters to continue their “jihadist activities and prepare for dealing a decisive blow to the enemy.” He was apparently referring to the Afghan spring fighting season that lies ahead during the warmer months.
In his Pashto language message posted on the Taliban’s official website, Mansoor asserted that after years of fighting, battlefield successes have enabled the insurgents to conduct attacks more effectively.