Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said a peace deal with the Hezb-e Islami militant group is close to being finalized, boosting hopes of progress toward ending decades of war.
Negotiations with the militant group, led by notorious warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, have been underway since March, when a draft deal was signed.
But a final agreement has been held up with some in the Afghan government who are suspicious of bringing one of the most radical militants in Afghanistan into the fold.
"Some issues remain, and those are issues that would be very important for implementing peace," Ghani said on September 12, the start of the three-day Eid al-Adha holiday. "These issues should be solved within a limited period of time."
In a message last week, Hekmatyar said the two sides had agreed to sign the agreement on September 9, but it was delayed at the last minute because of disagreements within the Afghan government.
“Both sides have agreed on a comprehensive agreement, and all involved external powers are also backing it,” he said. “The continuation of war is not in the interest of Afghans and only benefits their internal and external enemies. This war is only killing Afghans and ruining their homeland.”
Rights activists have expressed concerns about longstanding accusations of human rights abuses against Hekmatyar, who was responsible for some of the worst atrocities committed during the civil war in the 1990s.
Hezb-e Islami has also carried out deadly attacks against U.S. and Afghan forces since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
But the deal appears to have attracted backing from across Afghanistan’s political spectrum.
Atta Mohammad Noor, a powerful governor and key leader of Jamiat-e Islami, the main rival of Hezb-e Islami, backed the deal on September 12.
“After receiving assurances from the capital [Kabul], I don’t see any problems in this agreement or the amendments that were made to it,” he told supporters. “So Jamiat-e Islami’s position is to support this agreement between the government and Hezb-e Islami.”
Kabul hopes a deal with Hezb-e Islami can convince the Taliban to end its insurgency and join the political process.
With reporting by Radio Free Afghanistan, Reuters, and AFP