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US Will Not Oppose Afghan Peace Talks with Armed Group

Amin Karim (R), an official of the Hezb-i-Islami Party, speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 17, 2016.
Amin Karim (R), an official of the Hezb-i-Islami Party, speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 17, 2016.

The United States on Monday said it will not oppose the ongoing political talks aimed at resolving conflicts between the Afghan government and the insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami led by former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

A Department of State official told VOA’s Afghan Service “the United States does not have any pre-conditions for supporting an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process.”

After months of talks, negotiators from the Afghanistan High Peace Council — an independent body set up by President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani — and Hezb-i-Islami agreed on a draft peace agreement which, if approved by both parties, would put an end to the group’s longstanding war against Afghan and international forces.

The draft agreement calls for a “dignified” return to Kabul of Hekmatyar and thousands of his supporters from Pakistan.

According to Amin Karim, Hezb-i-Islami’s top negotiator, Hekmatyar is no longer demanding that all foreign troops leave Afghanistan — a stance that had been a key obstacle to peace negotiations.

A beneficiary of U.S. support during the Afghan-Soviet war in the 1980s, Hekmatyar led the deadliest group of Mujahedeen against the Soviet occupation. He was appointed prime minister after the Mujahedeen groups took over Afghanistan in 1992. But the groups quickly engaged in a civil war for several years before being ousted from Kabul in 1996 by the Taliban.

Human rights groups accuse Hekmatyar’s party and his rival factions of committing egregious crimes in the civil wars in Afghanistan.

Over the last 13 years, Hezb-i-Islami has fought Afghan and international forces in Afghanistan. The group claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in Kabul which killed 15 people, including six Americans and nine Afghans.

Hekmatyar was named a “global terrorist,” according to the U.S. Department of State. He is on a United Nations blacklist. Under the peace agreement, the Afghan government promises to do whatever it can to lift those labels.

A State Department official told VOA that “the United States is prepared to work with the government of Afghanistan and members of the United Nations Security Council in considering sanctions relief in the event that an agreement is concluded that provides for fulfillment of the necessary conditions.”

While Afghan officials say the draft peace agreement could be signed by Ghani in the near future, it is unclear how and when the U.S. would remove Hekmatyar from its global terror list. For Hekmatyar to be removed from the U.N. blacklist, a request from the Afghan government would be needed.

“There might be some resistance inside the U.S. to taking his name off a terror watch list. But I imagine that if, indeed, he is signing a peace agreement, that there is negotiating space both on the U.S. side and with the United Nations,” said RAND Corporation military analyst Rebecca Zimmerman.

Hezb-i-Islami’s top negotiator Karim said that the group has committed to the conditions and was genuinely seeking “a durable peace.”

Still, Kabul’s amnesty offer to Hekmatyar has angered some rights activists who say the Afghan government’s efforts to reconcile with warlords are misguided.

Some Afghans believe that a peace agreement with Hekmatyar will put pressure on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table, but some analysts say that it may not have an impact.

“The [internal] pressure on the Taliban right now pushes them in the direction of more fighting, not in a direction of peace,” Zimmerman said. “So I don’t expect that the news about Hezb-i-Islami will have a tremendous impact on the Taliban’s decisions with respect to negotiations.”