Afghanistan's Hekmatyar asks Taliban to lay down arms

(AhlulBayt News Agency) - After some 20 years of living in hiding, former Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has made his first public appearance, urging the Taliban militant group to lay down arms and join a "peace caravan" in the war-torn country.

The 69-year-old leader of the Hezb-i-Islami militant group made the remarks in a gathering organized by provincial officials in the country's eastern province of Laghman, east of the capital Kabul, on Saturday.

"I invite you [Taliban] to join the peace caravan and stop the pointless, meaningless and unholy war," he said at the gathering, which was mostly composed of his supporters. "I want a free, proud, independent and Islamic Afghanistan."

A number of government officials were also in attendance at the gathering, which was widely broadcast in Afghanistan.

Hekmatyar, a former anti-Soviet commander in the 1980s who waged a guerrilla war against the Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan, stands accused of leading the militancy that allegedly killed thousands of people, mostly civilians, in Kabul, during the 1992-1996 civil war.

In the wake of Taliban’s reign of terror in 2001, Hekmatyar was designated a “global terrorist” by the US for his alleged links to the al-Qaeda and Taliban militant groups and was hence forced to go into hiding.

Back in September last year, however, following months of negotiations between Kabul and Hekmatyar, the two sides etched a landmark peace deal, which gave him and his followers immunity for past actions and granted them full political rights. The deal, however, sparked revulsion from human rights groups, arguing that it was too lenient toward the warlord and many of his militants.

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