Afghan officials have finalized a peace agreement with controversial warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the militant group Hezb-i-Islami. The government hopes the deal will spur other insurgents to follow suit.
Afghan National Security Adviser Haneef Atmar announced a deal on Twitter shortly after it was signed on Thursday.
"I hope that this is the beginning of permanent peace in our country," Sayed Ahmad Gilani, head of the government's High Peace Council and one of the signatories to the agreement, told reporters.
Hundreds of people protested in the Afghan capital, carrying signs calling the deal a "crime."
"Any deal with Hekmatyar and other criminals is treason," protest leader Sealy Ghaffar told the Reuters news agency. "Peace will never be achieved by sacrificing justice," he said.
Under the deal, Hekmatyar will be granted amnesty for past offenses and imprisoned Hezb-i-Islami members will be released. Kabul will also campaign to lift international sanctions on the tribal chief.
Analysts remain skeptical
However, experts believe the deal is little more than a symbolic gesture, because the Hezb-i-Islami has not been involved in the recent conflict, compared to the "Islamic State" (IS) or the Taliban.
"The deal will have little impact on the dynamics of the conflict," said Timor Sharan, a Kabul-based analyst for the International Crisis Group. "The government's rationale is that by luring Hekmatyar on board, other insurgent groups might be encouraged to consider peace too."
However, Human Rights Watch researcher Patricia Gossman said the deal would only "compound the culture of impunity" in the country.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, nicknamed the "butcher of Kabul," and his Hezb-i-Islami have been accused of killing and wounding thousands of civilians during the domestic conflict in the 1990s. In the 1980s, the warlord received aid from the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to fight Soviet forces occupying Afghanistan.
After the US-led 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Hekmatyar was designated as a terrorist by Washington for allegedly backing al Qaeda and the Taliban. The warlord's entry into mainstream Afghan politics could signal problems for the Afghan government, which is already split between rival factions loyal to President Ashraf Ghani and his chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah. The position of chief executive was created in compromise after both Ghani and Abdullah claimed victory in Afghanistan's 2014 presidential elections.
Peace talks with Afghanistan's largest insurgent group, the Taliban, have failed to make significant progress, although both sides say they are open to the idea.
mg/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa)