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Hekmatyar returns to Kabul under EU-backed deal

Hezb-e-Islami chief, who is ex-rebel leader from 90s-civil war, arrives in capital in armed convoy supported by helicopters

Hekmatyar returns to Kabul under EU-backed deal KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - MAY 04: Hamid Karzai former Afghan president (L), Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (2 L), Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (C) leader of the Hezb-e Islami Party, Afghan former Mujahideen leader Abdul Rasul Sayaf (2 R) and Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah (R) arrive to attend the special welcoming ceremony in honour of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Kabul, Afghanistan on May 4, 2017. ( Haroon Sabawoon - Anadolu Agency )

By Shadi Khan Saif

KABUL, Afghanistan

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the country's most feared ex-rebel leader from the 90s-civil war period, arrived in the capital on Thursday under an EU-backed peace deal with the Afghan government, almost 20 years after he fled Kabul.

Hekmatyar, who heads the Hezb-e-Islami party, drove all the way from eastern Nangarhar province and entered the city in a heavily-armed convoy of armored vehicles and pick-up trucks packed with his top commanders and fighters.

His party supporters had decorated the Kabul-Nangarhar Highway and roads in Kabul with his posters. Afghan air force helicopters were also used to escort his convoy.

Hashmatullah Arshad, party spokesman, told Anadolu Agency their 69-year-old leader would be staying in the Darul Aman neighborhood of Kabul.

Later, President Ashraf Ghani warmly embraced the former mujahedeen leader at a special ceremony in the presidential palace and hailed the peace deal.

“The talks proved that the Afghan people have no problem with each other, but because of outside hands, have occasionally witnessed conflict,” the president said in his address at the ceremony.

“To the Taliban, I say, who is your leader? Where is he? Apart from war, murder and destruction to this nation, what plans do you have?”

Ghani said the Afghan government is ready for peace and will pay any price to achieve it.

He urged countries in the region “to not maintain ties with terror groups, but only the legitimate Afghan government”. He said the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan is “an imposed war”.

“Afghans are victim of international terrorism,” he said.

Hekmatyar vowed to fully support the government in Kabul in its efforts to bring peace and stability in the country.

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - MAY 04: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hezb-e Islami Party, speaks to audience on a press conference during the special welcoming ceremony in honour of himself, in Kabul, Afghanistan on May 4, 2017.

Mediator role

The Afghan war veteran said he had no desire to challenge, strive for change or take a share in the government.

He also urged Afghan tribes to unite for the sake of defense of their areas against the enemy.

Hekmatyar also offered to act as a mediator between the Taliban and the government. “I call the Taliban ‘my brother’, good and bad people are among them. Taliban are Afghans.

“Let’s end the war, live together as brothers and then ask foreigners to leave our country,” he said.

He also called on the leaders of the national unity government in Kabul to overcome their internal rift. He criticized some media outlets for allegedly promoting hatred, division and conflicts.

Hekmatyar also asked Iran to stop meddling in Afghanistan’s affairs and refrain from allegedly sending Afghans to Syria to fight the war there.

Abdullah Abdullah, chief executive officer of the government, also spoke on the occasion during which he refrained from calling the Taliban “brothers” but instead called them “Hekmatyar’s brothers”.

The Afghan government had released at least 55 prisoners associated with his party before the war veteran arrived in the capital in line with the September 2016 peace deal.

On Saturday, the veteran Afghan mujahedeen leader made his first public address since returning to Afghanistan following almost two decades of self-imposed exile. Speaking in eastern Laghman province, he had urged the Afghan Taliban to shun violence and join the peace process.

The landmark peace deal between Hekmatyar and the Afghan government has been widely hailed by the international community in Afghanistan.

EU backs deal

In a statement on Thursday, the European Union and Norway said they back the peace deal.

“We hope that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's arrival in Kabul encourages the wider public belief that peace in Afghanistan is possible. This signifies the moment for others to move from conflict to constitutional politics.

“Hence, the EU, its member states in Afghanistan and Norway call upon all armed opposition groups to come forward, commit to an equitable peace and renounce terrorism,” the EU’s Special Representative, Ambassador Franz-Michael Mellbin, said.

The Hezb-e-Islami is ideologically inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt and the Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan, and was formed by Hekmatyar in the mid-1970s.

Hekmatyar left Kabul in 1997 during a brutal civil war period in the country when the Taliban captured the capital. He first fled to Iran and later to Pakistan.

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