KABUL — Fugitive warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar on Saturday made his first public appearance in Afghanistan after nearly two decades underground, calling on Taliban insurgents to “join the peace caravan and stop this pointless holy war.” He also urged all political parties to reconcile and seek change “without bloodshed.”
The return of Hekmatyar, 69, who spoke at an outdoor ceremony in a government compound in Laghman province, represented a sorely needed success for the beleaguered government of President Ashraf Ghani, who invited him to return home peacefully last fall in hopes it would encourage the Taliban to follow suit.
A brief statement from the presidential palace said Ghani “welcomes Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s return to Afghanistan as a result of the Afghan-led peace process. The deal shows that Afghans have the capacity to resolve the conflict through dialogue.”
But Hekmatyar’s homecoming was fraught with tension, and his expected arrival in Kabul was delayed by disputes over the release of prisoners from his former antigovernment militia. Also, his remarks had a strong anti-Western theme and were critical of the U.S.-led military campaign against the Taliban, which he compared to the Vietnam War and the Soviet quagmire in Afghanistan.