Kabul welcomes Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Afghan warlord who once shelled its citizens

The Guardian reports: When Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a fugitive Afghan warlord and former ally of al-Qaida and the Taliban, returned this year to the city he had once showered with rockets, he was welcomed at the presidential palace.

Hekmatyar had been on lists of internationally wanted terrorists for years but, since his return to Kabul in May, he has met scores of high-ranking diplomats, including the US, EU and Nato ambassadors, as part of his assimilation into mainstream politics.

Hekmatyar, whose crimes were pardoned in a peace deal with the government, now himself calls for the prosecution of war criminals. In two interviews with the Guardian – the first with international media since his return – he said he could unite Afghans and help facilitate negotiations with the Taliban.

When the Guardian put to him allegations of war crimes and torture, he dismissed them as “lies”. He also denied he is reviled for his history of human rights abuse, including the indiscriminate shelling of civilians, targeted assassinations and disappearances of political opponents.

“If you have made a survey and found a lot of people who have this point of view, please present it to us,” he said.

His longtime aide, Amin Karim, said protests against Hekmatyar’s return had been negligible. “How many? We counted 43 people,” he said.

As the leader of one of Afghanistan’s main political parties, Hezb-i Islami, Hekmatyar does have supporters. But he remains notorious both at home and abroad.

Now, however, he has joined a roster of ageing warlords in powerful positions inside and outside government whose main leverage is their potentially disruptive power bases, and who appear to contribute little to policymaking or state-building. [Continue reading…]

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