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Afghan Warlord Hekmatyar Arrives In Kabul After Peace Deal

An Afghan man rides on his bicycle past a banner with pictures of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Kabul on May 2.
An Afghan man rides on his bicycle past a banner with pictures of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Kabul on May 2.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of Afghanistan's most notorious warlords and a former prime minister, has returned to the capital, Kabul, months after signing a peace deal with the government.

Hekmatyar’s arrival in Kabul on May 4 marks his return to public life after more than 20 years in exile.

Known as the "Butcher of Kabul," Hekmatyar is mainly known for his role in the bloody civil war of the 1990s, in which he stands accused of killing thousands of people in the capital.

Some in Kabul see the return of Hekmatyar as a risky gambit -- one that could expose divisions within a "unity" government riven with constant power struggles and rivalries.

"There are still uncertainties as to what he is going to do," said one senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "Is he going to be a partner in the government or a rival?"

Hekmatyar has already signaled that he intends to be active in national politics. Last week, he questioned the U.S.-brokered power-sharing agreement between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

"Why don't you do something historic and let one withdraw in favor of the other?" Hekmatyar asked.

Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami militant group signed a peace agreement with Ghani's government in September. Under the deal, Hezb-e Islami laid down all arms and ended its insurgency against the Afghan government throughout the country.

In exchange, Hezb-e Islami prisoners will be released from Afghan jails, among other provisions of the agreement.

A heavily armed convoy of several hundred vehicles escorted Hekmatyar from the eastern province of Nangarhar to Kabul. Afghan security forces were deployed along the 160-kilometer route to ensure his safety.

Hekmatyar is due to meet with Ghani for talks at the presidential palace, where a large ceremony is to be held in his honor.

He is expected to address the nation live on television from Kabul's Ghazi Stadium on May 5.

Last week, Hekmatyar, white-bearded and clad in his trademark black turban, called on the Taliban to lay down their weapons and join a "caravan of peace" as he spoke at a rally in eastern Laghman Province.

-- With reporting by Reuters

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