Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, former prime minister and founder and current leader of the Hezb-e Islami political party, has returned to mainstream political life after his militant group signed a peace deal with the government last September.
Hezb-e Islami that is the second largest militant group after Taliban is ideologically influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood was one of most influential groups in the fight against Soviet forces in the 1980s.
The 70-year old politician’s convoy of several hundred vehicles to Kabul, mainly pickup trucks equipped with machine guns, was greeted by hundreds of onlookers, including supporters bearing the green party flag and flowers.
The cheering fans sang the national anthem and chanted slogans such as “Welcome to Kabul, Honorable Hekmatyar."
Ghani led an event to welcome Hekmatyar, a former prime minister, at the presidential palace and thanked him for "heeding the peace call."
The former militant leader has made on Friday an appearance at a small gathering of members of the armed group in eastern Afghanistan.
About 50 people gathered to meet Hekmatyar at a government-owned guesthouse, waiting for hours to meet him.
As Hekmatyar arrived, supporters chanted slogans of "Long live Hezb-i-Islami" and "God is great".
In the week ahead of his return, huge billboards sprang up around the city, but were quickly covered in paint or mud.
Hekmatyar is the latest in a series of controversial figures that Kabul has sought to reintegrate by granting judicial immunity for past crimes.
Back in September last year and 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.
In February, upon Kabul's request, the United Nations Security Council lifted sanctions against Hekmatyar, saying "assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo set out in … Resolution 2253 (2015)” no longer applied to him. It also removed his name from its ISIS-linked group list.
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.
Afghanistan has been gripped by insecurity since the United States and its allies invaded the country as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror in 2001. Many parts of the state remain plagued by militancy despite the presence of foreign troops.
During the past 16 years, the Taliban militants have been conducting terrorist attacks across the country, killing and displacing civilians.
In addition, the ISIS terrorist group, which is mainly active in Syria and Iraq, has recently managed to take recruits from Afghan Taliban defectors. The rise of ISIS in Afghanistan has added to concerns about security situation of the country.