By Shadi Khan Saif
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Hezb-e-Islami party chief in Afghanistan, urged the Taliban on Sunday to join him for the forthcoming presidential elections in the war-ravaged country.
The landmark presidential polls are due in April next year, with the current president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani as a leading candidate.
Addressing a news conference at his party headquarters in Kabul, Hekmatyar said the Taliban have been approached by his party to contest the polls from one platform.
He also vowed a fair share in the future Kabul government for the Taliban rebels.
The Taliban have so far not responded to the remarks made by Hekmatyar. However, the Taliban had reportedly asked the top U.S. peace negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, to postpone the April polls, according to the local Azadi Radio.
On his extensive shuttle diplomacy, Khalilzad is scheduled to meet top Pakistani officials in Islamabad on Monday to push for peaceful settlement of the Afghan war.
Hekmatyar also flayed the parliamentary polls held in Afghanistan in October as "systemically engineered and rigged." He called on the Kabul government to reject all votes cast without the biometric verification of voters.
Earlier this year, Hekmatyar, the former Afghan Mujaheddin leader, floated the idea of providing “safe zones” to the Taliban in a bid to encourage them to join peace process.
However, Zabihullah Mujahed, the Taliban spokesman, had termed the idea as “an act of practically dividing Afghanistan.”
In June 2017, following his landmark return after some 20 years of self-imposed exile, Hekmatyar reaffirmed his support for the government in Kabul led by President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, with whom he inked the peace deal in September 2016.
The 70-year-old now resides next to the headquarters of his political party in the heart of Kabul, and has pledged on numerous occasions to mediate between the Taliban and the government.