January 11, 2018
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has granted clemency to 75 prisoners loyal to former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who reached a landmark peace deal with the government in Kabul in 2016.
According to Shah Mir Amirpoor, the press officer at the Pul-e-Charkhi detention center east of Kabul, the inmates were released on Thursday in line with Ghani’s decree.
Hekmatyar, a former 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.
In September 2016, following months of negotiations between Kabul and Hekmatyar, the two sides sealed a landmark peace deal, which gave him and his followers immunity for past actions and granted them full political rights.
However, Nadir Afghan, spokesman for Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami party, says more than 2,200 members of the party are still in prison in Afghanistan.
The deal sparked revulsion from human rights groups that argued it was too lenient toward the warlord and many of his militants.
Kabul hoped the accord with Hekmatyar would encourage other armed groups to follow suit, but they have so far resisted peace overtures.
Back in February last year, 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 Daesh-linked group list.
The peace deal with Hekmatyar’s outfit, the country’s second-biggest militant group after Taliban, is seen by some as a symbolic victory for Ghani, who seeks to revive peace negotiations with the much stronger Taliban, and who has so far failed to bring complete peace to the country despite election promises to that effect.
Afghanistan has been plagued by insecurity since the US and its allies invaded the country as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror in 2001. Many parts of the Asian state suffer from 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.