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Afghanistan

UN lifts sanctions against controversial Afghan warlord

Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has been removed from a United Nations sanctions list targeting Islamist fighters. He had previously been branded "a global terrorist" in 2003 on account of his human rights abuses.

The UN Security Council lifted sanctions against Hekmatyar, including a freeze that had been put on his assets, a comprehensive travel ban, and an arms embargo. 

Hekmatyar, the leader of the Islamist organization Hezb-i-Islami, had occasionally collaborated with al Qaeda and the Taliban after the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, despite disagreements between the various groups.

The decision to remove Hekmatyar from the sanctions list followed a peace agreement with the Afghan government signed in September 2016 which included a formal request by the government to remove the names of Hezb-i-Islami leaders from the list.

Diplomatic sources told the Agence France Presse news agency that only Russia had opposed the move, and that France was reluctant because of Hezb-i-Islami's involvement in an ambush outside Kabul that cost the lives of 10 French soldiers in August 2008.

Hekmatyar was the former leader of the resistance against the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s, which later led to a civil war in the country in the 1990s upon the Soviet withdrawal. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was nicknamed "The Butcher of Kabul" as he ordered thousands of killings during the civil war, eventually advancing to become prime minister in 1993.

Power struggle in Kabul

Hekmatyar's chief negotiator, Amin Karim, told The Associated Press news agency that the warlord would return to the Afghan capital, Kabul, in "a matter of weeks, not months." He is believed to be currently hiding in the eastern Kunar province, where he enjoys popular support.

Hekmatyar's return to the capital could herald new political uncertainty as the Afghan government continues to struggle against the Taliban's reinvigorated campaign. He is also regarded as a potential political rival to President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who have been governing the country since the disputed elections of 2014 as part of a US-brokered power-sharing agreement .

The lifting of the UN sanctions against the former warlord came after Ghani signed the peace treaty with Hekmatyar, which included the stipulation of lobbying for the United Nations to remove him and his associates from terrorist blacklists. The agreement, which was the first of its kind since the Taliban launched their insurgency in 2001, was commended by numerous foreign governments, including the United States, as a step towards peace in the country.

ss/jlw (AP, AFP, dpa)

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