Afghanistan signs peace agreement with 'butcher of Kabul'

Hekmatyar, derided widely as the "butcher of Kabul", was a prominent anti-Soviet commander in the 1980s who stands accused of killing thousands of people in the Afghan capital during the 1992-1996 civil war. Photograph:( AFP )

Kabul, Afghanistan Sep 22, 2016, 02.46 PM (IST)

Afghanistan today signed a peace agreement with warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, making way for him to come back to politics after years of hiding and despite a history of war crimes.

Hekmatyar, heads the Hezb-i-Islami militant group and is the latest in a series of controversial figures that Kabul has sought to reintegrate in the post-Taliban era.

A delegation from the Hezb-i-Islami met  with the members of High Peace Council (HPC), which is responsible for reconciliation efforts with militants, and the national security adviser at an official ceremony in Kabul.

The deal with Afghanistan's second-biggest militant group, though largely dormant,marks a symbolic victory for President Ashraf Ghani, who has struggled to revive peace talks with the more powerful Taliban.

"This is not just a peace deal between Hezb-i-Islami and the government of Afghanistan," Mohammad Amin Karim, head of the insurgent delegation, said at the ceremony, which was not attended by Hekmatyar, AFP reported.

"It is a beginning of a new era of peace all around the country."

The agreement will be formally signed by Ghani and Hekmatyar, following which it will be implemented.

As a part of the agreement, the government will offer Hekmatyar legal immunity "in all past political and military proceedings" as well as release Hezb-i-Islami prisoners in exchange for a permanent ceasefire, AFP reported.

"Destruction is the only consequence of war. So I urge all the opposition groups to pursue peace and reconciliation," said HPC chief Sayed Ahmad Gilani.

Hekmatyar, is often referred to as the "butcher of Kabul" and  was a prominent anti-Soviet commander in the 1980s.

He has been accused of killing thousands of people in the Afghan capital during the 1992-1996 civil war. Reports in the past have claimed that is hiding Pakistan but his group says he remains in Afghanistan.

The deal has drawn flak from several human rights groups and residents of Kabul who survived the civil war.

Activists protested in Kabul with placards  showing Hekmatyar with blood spilling from his mouth and a rocket piercing his nose. It read: "We cannot forgive the executioner of Kabul.", AFP reported.

"His return will compound the culture of impunity that the Afghan government and its foreign donors have fostered by not pursuing accountability for the many victims of forces commanded by Hekmatyar and other warlords that laid waste to much of the country in the 1990s," Human Rights Watch said last month., AFP reported.

US has called Hekmatyar a “global terrorist” and the warlord has also been blacklisted by the UN. As a part of the deal the Afghan government will also work towards lifting these restrictions.

"Afghanistan has been failing in negotiating peace with militant groups for the last 15 years, and this deal marks the first practical success in that regard," Kabul-based analyst Haroun Mir told AFP.

"This could be a template for peace deals with other militant groups and marks an achievement for Ghani ahead of the Brussels" development aid conference in October, he added.

The deal was hailed by the country's international partners including the United States and the United Nations.

"The initialling of a peace agreement... sends a strong signal of hope for Afghanistan," the European Union said, expressing hope for an early implementation of the deal, AFP reported.

"It demonstrates that political processes can succeed where conflict cannot."

( WION with inputs from AFP)