— The Afghan government signed a draft peace deal on Thursday with a small insurgent faction led by a warlord who has been designated a “global terrorist” by the United States
The faction, Hezb-i-Islami, whose name means Islamic Party, agreed to cease hostilities in exchange for government recognition of the group and support for the removal of United Nations and American sanctions against its contentious leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, according to the draft agreement.
It was the first qualified success in peace efforts between the government and insurgents, and Muhammad Hanif Atmar, the leader of the Afghan National Security Council who signed on the government’s behalf, called on the Taliban, insurgents with a much more significant presence, to follow suit. Efforts to restart peace talks between the government and the Taliban collapsed this year.
“The result of war is only destruction,” said Pir Said Ahmad Gaillani, leader of the government’s High Peace Council, who also signed the agreement. “The other groups who are fighting with the government should accept Hezb-i-Islami as a model and should join the peace process.”
The draft agreement does not go into effect until it has been signed by President Ashraf Ghani and by Mr. Hekmatyar, who officials said would come to Kabul to do so in “the coming days.” Part of the deal is to arrange for Mr. Hekmatyar to re-establish himself in the capital and join the political process, and the Afghan leadership is promising to give him an “honorary post” in the government. Power-sharing, however, is not part of the agreement.
Problems abound with the plan. With the coalition government already embroiled in a leadership crisis between Mr. Ghani and his chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, Mr. Hekmatyar’s inclusion could be destabilizing. Many liberal Afghans deplore the return of a man regarded as responsible for mass casualties, especially during the shelling of Kabul during the 1990s, although many current Afghan political figures have similar pasts and serve with impunity. Both liberals and the Taliban will be angered by the agreement’s referral to Mr. Hekmatyar as the emir of Hezb-i-Islami, a title the Taliban use for their own leader.
On a more practical level, negotiators from Hezb-i-Islami said their leader would not come to Kabul until sanctions against him were lifted, which in the case of the United Nations is a protracted, complex process that would take much longer than a matter of days.
Part of the deal calls for the government to pressure the United States to lift sanctions against Mr. Hekmatyar, but that may prove politically difficult. Although his insurgents have been relatively inactive, often sidelined by the Taliban and sometimes clashing with them as well, some serious attacks have been attributed to his followers. One of the most notorious claimed by the group was a suicide bombing in 2013 that killed six American advisers in Kabul.
In 2003, the United States announced that it was making Mr. Hekmatyar a “specially designated global terrorist” because of his participation in terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and it asked the United Nations to include him on its sanctions list against known terrorists.
The American embassy issued a brief statement on Thursday welcoming the accord as part of “an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process.”
Hezb-i-Islami split after the Afghan government was established, with a political wing that disassociated itself from the insurgency. Many leading figures in that wing joined the government, and several were prominent during the presidency of Hamid Karzai. Few of them have explicitly repudiated Mr. Hekmatyar’s leadership of the party, and some were present at the signing of the draft agreement on Thursday.
That could mean that if Mr. Hekmatyar does return, he could again be a significant force in Afghanistan’s complex political scene. Mr. Hekmatyar is known for his shifting alliances, having been on nearly every side of the Afghan conflict at one time or another, be they the Communists or the Taliban, and he is also known for breaking agreements and turning on his allies.
Before Mr. Hekmatyar actually returns to Kabul, his aides and government officials need to negotiate the details of where he and his followers will live and work, the financing of their return and other aspects of the agreement, details that could prove contentious.
Days before the signing, Habiburrahman Hekmatyar, the Hezb-i-Islami leader’s son, said by telephone that party negotiators had met with both Western and Afghan officials concerning Gulbuddin’s removal from terrorist blacklists, suggesting the insurgents were confident that would happen.
One major issue of disagreement, he said, was language in the agreement regarding an end to foreign military presence in Afghanistan. In the end, they agreed to compromise on that, agreeing in the draft accord that “the two sides have their own unique perspectives” on foreign withdrawal.
“The restoration of independence is our main demand,” said Muhammad Amin Karim, a Hezb-i-Islami representative. “Ninety percent of foreign troops have already left Afghanistan
. We will keep struggling until the last foreign soldier leaves.”
Mr. Atmar replied, “You can follow the issue of ending foreign presence in Afghanistan, but through peaceful means.”