Kabul close to inking peace deal with Hekmatyar, says President Ghani

(From agencies)

Afghanistan is close to signing a peace agreement with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, President Ashraf Ghani said Monday, in a landmark accord that could pave the way for the notorious warlord’s political return after years in hiding, AFP reports.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Hekmatyar, who heads the now largely dormant Hezb-i-Islami militant group, is the latest among a series of warlords whom Kabul has sought to reintegrate into Afghan politics in the post-Taliban era.

If inked, the deal with Afghanistan’s second-biggest militant group would mark a symbolic victory for Ghani, who has struggled to revive peace talks with the much more powerful Taliban.

“The peace agreement will be finalized very soon,” Ghani said in his address on the occasion of the Islamic festival of Eid-ul-Adha.

“We hope for peace in Afghanistan and to end the war in the country.”

Ghani’s statement comes after months of negotiations with Hizb-i-Islami, which has progressed in fits and starts over differences within the government over the final draft agreement.

On Sunday, Hekmatyar’s son said on Facebook the agreement had been reached but the High Peace Council, the government body responsible for negotiations, said talks were still underway.

Gunmen attack hospital

Two gunmen entered a hospital in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar on Monday, setting off a gunbattle with security forces before both were killed, officials said, Reuters reports.

Samim Khpalwak, a spokesman for the provincial governor of Kandahar, said the apparent target for the attack was the deputy governor who was intending to visit the hospital, a large regional facility that provides health services to war victims, including members of the army and police.

One member of the security forces was killed along with the two attackers in the exchange of fire.

Afghanistan has seen a string of militant attacks in recent months, denting confidence in the ability of the U.S.-backed government to ensure security 15 years after the hardline Taliban were ousted.

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