Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan Chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar appeared in public on Saturday for the first time in 20 years with a message of peace for the Taliban to shun what he called “un-Islamic, unjustified and illogical war.”
The Taliban; however, played down Hekmatyar’s assertions and their spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid avoided comments on his comments and said “We have not responded to any of Hekamtyar’s statement in 16 years and will not comment again.”
The HIA chief pushed the Taliban to join intra-Afghan dialogue, the option he himself used to strike a 25-point landmark peace deal with the National Unity Government in September that brought an end to the group’s armed struggle. He told the Taliban that problems of Afghanistan would not be solved by others but Afghans themselves through the Afghan-owned reconciliation process.
In a veiled reference to Pakistan and Iran, the Afghan leader urged neighbours not to “interfere in our internal affairs, stop supplying guns to warmongers and do not send them for war to Afghanistan.”
Without mentioning the US and its western allies, Hekmatyar told the media persons and his supporters in eastern Laghman province that the deployment of more troops will not solve the problem and the Afghans should be left alone so that they can resolve their problems through intra-Afghan dialogue.
The presidential palace welcomed the comeback of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and said it will have a “considerable impact on ensuring peace, stability, and development in Afghanistan because he wants to contribute toward these areas in partnership with the Government.”
A statement from the palace “invites all opponents and the Afghan Taliban to join Afghan-owned peace talks and contribute toward the development of the country and prosperity of the people in partnership with the Government instead of ruining the country, plaguing the people, and resorting to violence and fighting.”
Hekmatyar appeared a day after the Taliban launched their fighting season and contrary to his peace posture, the Taliban insurgents announced to target Afghan and foreign forces. The Taliban “Mansouri Operations” show their approach to keep on fighting to force the remaining US-led NATO forces to leave Afghanistan.
As the Taliban unleashed their “Spring Offensive” US General John Nicholson, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan announced on Saturday that 300 US Marines have returned to southern Helmand province, the first to be deployed in the war-torn country since the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ended its combat mission in 2014, according to reports.
Although the US insists the deployment is part of the NATO’s Resolute Support Mission to train, advise, and assist, it is widely believed that more troops means more fighting. The marines have been deployed amid Taliban’s growing activities in Helmand.
The Taliban leadership understands that their war might not force foreign troops to quit Afghanistan, as it did not happen in 16 years of war. If that is the case, they should give clear signals to the world community and Afghans that they are ready for peace negotiations.
Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Karzai had recently told members of the Pakistan-Afghanistan track 1.5 & II project, Beyond Boundaries, that Kabul is ready to discuss the Taliban demands of the withdrawal of foreign troops but they should come to the negotiation table. There is a general perception in Afghanistan that there will be no justification for the stay of the foreign troops if the Taliban reach a peace deal with the government. Former President Hamid Karzai has said time and again that the Taliban’s ongoing war has given space to the presence of the foreign troops.
The High Peace Council, which is mandated to hold peace talks with the Taliban insurgents, also pressed the armed insurgent groups to join the national reconciliation process unconditionally hours after Hekmatyar emerged at a gathering. “The Afghan government was ready for peace talks with armed groups anytime and anywhere,” the HPC secretary Mohammad Akram Khpalwak said on Saturday.
A vast majority in Afghanistan has welcomed the Hekmatyar’s peace deal; however, some Afghans have concerns as they still remember the bitter memories of the civil war in early 90s when the Mujahideen were fighting for the control of Kabul.