Kabul, Afghanistan. A controversial Afghan militia leader who has spent the past two decades as a fugitive abroad, returned to the city he once attacked and made an impassioned appeal for peace and unity in his war torn homeland.
The change was unimaginable even a year ago, when Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was a wanted terrorist under UN sanctions, leading armed fighters against NATO and Afghan forces in a part-time alliance with the Taliban, and hundreds of his followers were in prison.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani embraced Hekmatyar and declared that his return, under a peace agreement they signed in September, shows that an end to hostility and strife can be achieved.
“I have come to cooperate with the government to help end the war and restore peace,” Hekmatyar told 2,000 people at a ceremony in the presidential palace. He urged the militants to join the peace process to end all reasons for the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Once a ruthlessly effective anti-Soviet militia leader in the 1980s, Hekmatyar was bankrolled by the CIA but later turned against the West. He has denounced US military intervention in Afghanistan for years, and he reiterated that stand in his speech, causing US military leaders in the Afghanistan occupation force, enormous consternation.
When the Taliban took power in 1996, he fled to Iran, after the Taliban was driven out in 2001, he took up arms against the government of President Hamid Karzai while reportedly hiding in Pakistan.
Hekmatyar also called for attacks against the United States, and in 2003 he was designated a “global terrorist” by the US government after declaring support for al-Qaeda. His forces were reportedly behind two attacks on helicopters carrying foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Last fall, with Taliban insurgents gaining momentum, Ghani proposed a deal with Hekmatyar, encouraged by the Obama Administration, which took months of negotiations. The president offered him full amnesty for wartime abuses and asked the United Nations to lift its ban if Hekmatyar would return to civilian life and help persuade the Taliban to end its nearly 16-year guerrilla war.