May 4 (UPI) — Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former Afghan warlord, has returned to Kabul after being ousted more than 20 years ago as part of a peace agreement with the government.
Hekmatyar on Thursday traveled to Kabul from Jalalabad in a convoy made up of members of his Hezb-i-Islami group that was guarded by an Afghan army helicopter.
Hezb-i-Islami is led by Hekmatyar, a former CIA asset who served as prime minister of Afghanistan under Taliban rule and was allied with Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani welcomed Hekmatyar at the presidential palace, where he thanked him for “heeding the peace call.”
“I call upon all armed opposition groups to follow in the footsteps of Hezb-e Islami and join the peace process,” Ghani said. “Let me ask the Taliban. What agenda and goal do you have other than killing innocent people? What have you achieved?”
Hekmatyar, who will give a nationally televised speech on Friday, called on the Taliban to engage in peace talks with the government.
“Let’s end the war, live together as brothers and then ask foreigners to leave our country,” Hekmatyar said.
The Afghan government and Hezb-i-Islami signed the peace agreement in September that required Hekmatyar and his group to renounce violence, cut ties with extremists groups and respect the Afghan constitution.
Hekmatyar and leaders of Hezb-i-Islami were granted amnesty for alleged crimes during the Afghan civil war in the 1990s, including for alleged indiscriminate rocket attacks in Kabul that killed hundreds of civilians and earned Hekmatyar the title of the “Butcher of Kabul.” The Taliban forced Hekmatyar out of Kabul in 1996.
Hezb-i-Islami carried out a suicide bombing in 2013 that killed at least 15 people, including six Americans. Hekmatyar was added to the U.S. Department of State’s global terrorist list in 2003 for his support of al-Qaida. The State Department previously said it would consider lifting sanctions against Hekmatyar if he fulfills the terms of the peace deal.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul previously said the agreement was “a step in bringing the conflict in Afghanistan to a peaceful end.”
“The United States continues to support an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process that results in armed groups ceasing violence, breaking ties with international terrorist groups, and accepting the Constitution, including protections for women and minorities,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement.
Some organizations such as Human Rights Watch said the peace deal undermines efforts to seek accountability for those accused of war crimes in Afghanistan.