The United Nations has removed notorious Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar from its list of designated terrorists following his recent peace agreement with the Kabul government.
“Therefore, the assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo … no longer apply to him,” the U.N. Security Council’s Sanctions Committee said in a statement issued in New York Friday.
The move comes months after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government sealed a peace deal with Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami, or HIG, an insurgent faction.
The truce required Hekmatyar to cease fighting against the Afghan government in return for his removal from the U.N. blacklist, along with other leaders of his faction, and allowing his group to resume political activities in Afghanistan.
Friday’s announcement has set the stage for the notorious fugitive warlord, a designated “global terrorist,” to return to Afghan politics after years in hiding, allegedly in neighboring Pakistan, though his aides insist he is present somewhere in the country.
A member of Hekmatyar’s peace negotiating team, Atiqullah Safi, confirmed to VOA Saturday that the group has formally been informed about the removal of their leader’s name from the U.N. terrorist list.
“The world body has taken this step at the request of the Afghan government and we welcome it,” senior government official Akram Khpalwak told VOA. He heads a joint committee of government and officials from Hekmatyar’s group, which is tasked to oversee implementation of the peace deal.
“It will boost efforts the government has been making to promote peace in the country,” Khpalwak said.
Local and international human rights groups have been critical of the peace deal from the outset and called for Hekmatyar be held accountable for his alleged crimes.
“His return will compound the culture of impunity that the Afghan government and its foreign donors have fostered by not pursuing accountability for the many victims of forces commanded by Hekmatyar and other warlords that laid waste to much of the country in the 1990s,” Human Rights Watch said in a recent statement.
Hekmatyar’s group has been fighting the U.S.-backed Afghan government alongside the Taliban for the past 15 years. He was designated a terrorist in 2003 for his association with al-Qaida.
A longtime guerilla commander with a history of war crimes and rights abuses, Hekmatyar’s forces fought against the former Soviet Union in the 1980s. Later, his militias battled the Taliban for control of Afghanistan during the brutal civil war of the 1990s.
The United States has also designated him a terrorist and offered millions of dollars for information leading to his arrest. But Washington has welcomed Kabul’s peace deal and promised to take steps to support efforts aimed at ending years of conflict in Afghanistan.
However, the Taliban has refused to engage in peace talks with the Afghan government and instead intensified insurgent activities across the country.