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Interview: Ex-Afghan Warlord Says ‘No Doubt’ Pakistan ‘Supports’ Taliban

RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar Photo Courtesy: Facebook/ Gulbuddin Hekmatyar

Former Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks to the media after arriving to register as a candidate for the presidential election at Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Kabul, Afghanistan January 19, 2019

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of Afghanistan’s most notorious former warlords, said there is “no doubt” neighboring Pakistan supports the Afghan Taliban.

In an interview with RFE/RL in the Afghan capital on April 14, Hekmatyar also expressed hope that talks scheduled this week between the Western-backed Kabul government and the Taliban could prove a significant step towards ending the war.

U.S. and Afghan officials have long accused Pakistan of providing safe havens for the militants, a claim rejected by Islamabad.

Hekmatyar forged close ties with Pakistan’s shadowy military establishment and its notorious spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), a relationship that was built during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, when the mujahideen commander was one of the main beneficiaries of Pakistani and CIA money and weapons.

“Pakistan has an interest in Afghanistan’s political affairs,” said Hekmatyar, whose Hezb-e Islami militant group signed a controversial peace accord with the Kabul government in 2016. “Pakistan is supporting the Taliban. There is no doubt about it.”

Hekmatyar said Pakistan now sees the war in Afghanistan as “more harmful” than beneficial to its interests, especially because of a crippling financial crisis and growing international pressure on Islamabad to clamp down on the Taliban.

Washington has said Pakistan is playing a positive role in the ongoing U.S.-Taliban peace talks in Qatar that are aimed at ending the nearly 18-year war.

U.S. and Taliban negotiators have held several rounds of talks in the Qatari capital, Doha, culminating in the basic framework of a potential peace deal in which the militants would prevent international terrorist groups from basing themselves in Afghanistan in exchange of a withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.

That framework deal is dependent on a political settlement among Afghans, including the Kabul government, the Taliban, and opposition figures.

The Taliban long refused to talk with Kabul, calling it a U.S. “puppet,” although Kabul has said a government delegation will meet the Taliban for introductory talks in Doha on April 19.

Hekmatyar is a member of the Reconciliation Leadership Council, a new council led by President Ashraf Ghani, that will appoint negotiators for the April 19-21 talks with the Taliban, create their mandate for talks, and oversee their work.

The council is composed of both current and former senior government officials and leaders of political parties and opposition groups.

The 69-year-old said he hopes the council will bridge chronic divisions among the political elite over peace talks with the Taliban, but warned that Kabul should not sideline powerful opposition figures from the process.

“Peace should not be monopolized,” said Hekmatyar, a candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for September. “Peace is a national issue. An agreement requires us all to engage honestly and unconditionally.”

Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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