Peace hopes rise as Afghan fighters inch towards deal

The Afghan government is expected to finalise a peace deal with a notorious insurgent group within days, marking a breakthrough in efforts to end the 15-year war, an official and a group representative have said.

Hezb-i-Islamis Amin Karim, second right, expects deal to succeed. Picture: AP

Ataul Rahman Saleem, deputy head of Kabul’s High Peace Council, said the deal with the armed wing of Hezb-i-Islami followed two years of talks.

A senior representative of Hezb-i-Islami, Amin Karim, also said he expected President Ashraf Ghani to approve the final version.

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Ghani has been trying to forge peace with groups fighting to overthrow the Kabul administration. His attempts to open a dialogue with the Taleban have failed.

While Hezb-i-Islami has been largely dormant in recent years, the deal could be a template for any future deal with the Taleban. It commits the group to ending its war against Kabul, respecting the constitution and ceasing all contact with other armed groups.

Hezb-i-Islami is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, known for killing thousands of people in Kabul during the 1992-96 civil war.

Under the agreement he could soon return to Kabul to sign a formal peace deal and take up residence.

Hekmatyar is designated a “global terrorist” by the US and blacklisted by the UN along with Osama bin Laden. The agreement obliges the Afghan government to work to have the restrictions lifted.

Hezb-i-Islami has been only intermittently active for some time; its last major attack was in 2013, when at least 15 people, including six US soldiers, were killed in Kabul.

Saleem said a few points were still to be thrashed out.

Negotiations began in July 2014, Karim said, when Hekmatyar received a letter from Ghani, then seeking to be president, noting that one of Hekmatyar’s key conditions for peace – withdrawal of all foreign troops – was about to be met.

“That was the beginning,” Karim said.

Progress stalled after President Barack Obama decided to leave a 10,000-strong force in the country to the end of 2016 until Hekmatyar dropped the condition.

Karim and Afghan officials have said a peace agreement with Hekmatyar’s group could encourage Taleban fighters to end their participation in the war, and lead to full peace.