Hekmatyar Urges Taliban ‘Brothers’ To End War, Offers To Mediate Talks
Notorious Afghan militant leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has called on his Taliban "brothers" to end their insurgency and offered to mediate talks with the government.
Hekmatyar's remarks on May 4 followed his return to the capital, Kabul, months after he signed a peace deal with Afghanistan's government.
"I call upon the Taliban to choose me as their brother," he told a ceremony that was held in his honor at the presidential palace. "I will fight for all your legitimate demands."
Hekmatyar, a former prime minister, urged the militants to join the peace process to "end all reasons for the presence of foreign troops" in Afghanistan.
"The most important issue for me is to end this war and rescue the country from crisis," said Hekmatyar, who called on neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran not to interfere in Afghanistan.
Hekmatyar, known as the "Butcher of Kabul," is mainly remembered for his role in the bloody civil war of the 1990s, in which he stands accused of killing thousands of people in the capital.
Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami militant group signed a peace agreement with President Ashraf Ghani's government in September 2016.
Under the deal, Hezb-e Islami laid down all arms and ended its insurgency against the Afghan government throughout the country. In exchange, Hezb-e Islami prisoners will be released from Afghan jails, among other provisions of the agreement.
The controversial peace deal has been criticized by many Afghans and by Western rights groups, which accuse Hekmatyar's forces of gross human rights violations during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s.
The group is also known for deadly attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces since 2001, when U.S.-led forces invaded to drive the Taliban from power following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Ghani, speaking before Hekmatyar, said the country had taken "a big step" toward peace by signing the agreement with Hekmatyar.
"I call upon all armed opposition groups to follow in the footsteps of Hezb-e Islami and join the peace process," Ghani said.
He added: "Let me ask the Taliban. What agenda and goal do you have other than killing innocent people? What have you achieved?"
Hekmatyar said the national unity government led by Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, brokered by Washington after the disputed election of 2014, was "not working."
He said either Ghani or Abdullah should resign.
Abdullah responded by defending the unity government, saying it was created under "special circumstances."
Abdullah also aimed criticism at Hekmatyar, saying he was not convinced the members of the Taliban are his brothers.
"Let's call them Hekmatyar's brothers for now," he said.
A heavily armed convoy of several hundred vehicles escorted Hekmatyar from eastern province of Nangarhar to Kabul.
Afghan security forces were deployed along the 160-kilometer route to ensure his safety.
Hekmatyar met Ghani for talks at the presidential palace before attending the ceremony.
He is expected to address the nation live on television from Kabul's Ghazi Stadium on May 5.
Last week, Hekmatyar, white-bearded and clad in his trademark black turban, called on the Taliban to lay down its weapons and join a "caravan of peace" as he spoke at a rally in the eastern Laghman Province.
Hekmatyar founded Hezb-e Islami in the mid-1970s. The group become one of the main mujahedin factions fighting against Soviet forces following their invasion in 1979, and then one of the most prominent groups in the bloody civil war for control of Kabul after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989.
Hekmatyar, a former prime minister under the mujahedin government, was one of the chief protagonists of the internecine 1992-96 war.
Rights groups accuse Hekmatyar of responsibility for the shelling of residential areas of Kabul in the 1990s as well as forced disappearances and covert jails where torture was commonplace.
He was designated as a terrorist by the U.S. State Department in 2003.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.