KABUL, Afghanistan – The United Nations has removed the name of a former Afghan warlord from its Islamic State group and al-Qaida sanctions list.
According to a statement posted Friday by the Security Council, a U.N. committee removed Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's name from the sanctions list. The statement said Hekmatyar, leader of Islamist organization Hezb-i-Islami, would no longer have his assets frozen, be subject to a travel ban or to an arms embargo.
Amin Karim, the group's chief negotiator told reporters on Saturday "The removal of sanctions proved that the solution is Afghan-owned negotiations inside the country and coming to a national consensus. If Afghans come to such a conclusion the international community is supportive of the peace process and it is good news for peace and the Afghan nation."
Hekmatyar, a former warlord who battled U.S. forces after the 2001 invasion and nursed bitter rivalries with other Afghan factions, agreed to lay down arms last year. Karim had earlier told The Associated Press that he would return to the capital in "a matter of weeks, not months."
Hekmatyar is seen as a potential rival to President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who have governed the country through a shaky, U.S.-brokered power-sharing agreement since the disputed elections of 2014. His return could stir up new political uncertainty as the government struggles to confront a reinvigorated Taliban that has been advancing on several fronts.
In September, Ghani signed a peace treaty with Hekmatyar in which Ghani pledged to lobby the U.S. and the United Nations to remove him and his party from terrorist blacklists. Hekmatyar signed the agreement via a video link to Kabul's presidential palace. The ceremony was broadcast live on television at the time.
The 25-point peace agreement gives Hekmatyar and his followers immunity for past actions and grants them full political rights.
"The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has taken all the necessary measures for a respectable, safe, and honorable welcoming and we have taken all security measures according to the protocol. We are waiting for his (Hekmatyar) return and we don't have any problem in this regard," said Akram Khpolwak, a political affairs adviser to the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Khpolwak added that joint commission work is underway for the implementation of the other articles of the main agreement between the government and the Hezb-i-Islami such as releasing Hezb-i-Islami prisoners whose files have been finalized and accepting the return of the refugees who couldn't return to their homeland earlier from different provinces.
Hekmatyar battled the Soviets in the 1980s and then took part in the civil war that erupted after their withdrawal, clashing with the so-called Northern Alliance. He was driven out when the Taliban seized power in 1996, but returned after the American invasion, vowing to resist what he termed the foreign "occupation."
His forces were largely confined to just two provinces, however, and have carried out few attacks in recent years. He is believed to be in hiding somewhere in the eastern Kunar province, where he enjoys popular support, and makes occasional trips into Pakistan through the nearby border.