ISLAMABAD - Top Afghan officials and representatives of an anti-government armed group, led by former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, have reported major progress in their protracted peace negotiations and both sides are expected to sign a deal, possibly sometime on Saturday.
President Ashraf Ghani’s national unity government for months has been engaged in talks with Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami (HIA) faction, with disagreements repeatedly stalling the much-touted peace process.
Renewed hopes for the long-delayed agreement stem from late Friday’s announcement made by the fugitive warlord’s son, Habibur Rehman Hekmatyar, on his official Facebook page. He said that HIA and the Afghan government have agreed on all the articles of the draft peace document “and God willing, it will be announced on Saturday.”
“I congratulate the (Afghan) nation, and all Muslims as well as Hezb-i-Islami members on the peace deal. I hope it will go a long way in ending the war, bringing peace and blocking foreign interference (in Afghanistan),’’ said Hekmtayar’s son who is not part of HIA’s negotiating team.
A presidential spokesman Shah Hussain Murtazavi told VOA there has been considerable progress in talks with the HIA negotiating team and promised more in course of the day.
“We have made good progress and hope to achieve more later today,” he said without discussing further details.
The groundbreaking development comes at a time when the largest insurgent group, the Taliban, has intensified attacks across Afghanistan, and has made territorial gains in parts of the country.
A peace deal with Hekmatyar’s group, which has fought alongside the Taliban against the U.S.-backed Afghan government, could put pressure on the Islamist insurgency to come to the table for peace talks. Unlike the Taliban, the Hekmatyar group’s influence is limited to very few Afghan provinces.
Hekmatyar is a longtime guerilla commander whose forces fought against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, using equipment supplied by the CIA. Later, his militias battled the Taliban for control of Afghanistan during the brutal civil war of the 1990s. Hekmatyar was designated a "global terrorist" by the United States in 2003 for allegedly participating in and supporting attacks by al-Qaida and Taliban forces.
Possible boost for Ghani
Analysts believe a peace deal with HIA might serve as a political boost to beleaguered Afghan President Ashraf Ghani who is under intense criticism for the worsening nationwide security. It would also come ahead of next month’s key summit on Afghanistan in Brussels where donors will review progress the Afghan national unity government has mad in terms of promoting political and economic reforms in the country.
Hekmatyar and his commanders are allegedly sheltering in neighboring Pakistan, where Taliban leaders also have their sanctuaries, charges Islamabad rejects.
Meanwhile, in a statement issued on the eve of the annual Eid festival, Taliban chief Mawlavi Hibatullah Akhundzada has urged Afghans security forces and government employees to abandon their jobs and join the group’s “legitimate jihad” against foreign invading forces.
"They should ponder deeply over their jeopardizing position of their being in the ranks of the invaders. Their support to the invading non-believers is undoubtedly in contradiction with the command of the Almighty Allah and His prophet," asserted the Taliban leader.
But in a nationally televised speech Saturday, President Ghani dismissed those assertions, saying armed opposition groups fighting in Afghanistan "are not jihadis but they are terrorists." He said their actions such as killing innocent Afghans in bomb and other terrorist attacks have nothing to do with Islam.