Notorious warlord seeks comeback, leverage in Afghanistan

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — After more than 40 years at war, one of Afghanistan's most notorious warlords, designated a "global terrorist" by the United States and blacklisted by the United Nations along with Osama bin Laden, wants to come out of the shadows.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, now in his late 60s, says he wants a "real and fair peace" but with conditions the Kabul government is unlikely to even contemplate, such as the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan and new elections in 2016.

The remarks reflect Hekmatyar's attempt to assert influence and gain new leverage in Afghan politics, but what role — if any — the once feared warlord could play is unclear.

"Peace can be established and the fighting can end once the occupation is over, foreign forces leave and the people of the Afghan nation are given the right to choose their own destiny and establish their own choice of government and governance," Hekmatyar said.

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Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, warlord in Afghanistan
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Notorious warlord seeks comeback, leverage in Afghanistan
Exiled Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar addresses a crowd of Afghan mujahedeen who gathered 17 January 1987 in Peshawar, west of Pakistan, to listen to their leaders announcing the rejection of Kabul's offers of ceasefire and coalition government. Hekmatyar, leader of Hezb-I-Islami (Islamic Party), is an ethnic Pashtun and Sunni Muslim extremist who had won large chunks of CIA and Pakistani aid during the 1979-1989 war against the Soviet Union. He bombed Kabul in the 1990s because he argued he was being excluded from power by the Tajik commander Ahmad Shah Masood. In 1996 Hekmatyar served a brief stint as Afghan prime minister. But a few months later Hekmatyar -- whose ideology was widely seen as a precursor of the Taliban movement -- was forced to flee the city when the militia overran it and he than found exile in Iran. AFP PHOTO DIMITRI KOCHKO (Photo credit should read DIMITRI KOCHKO/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Wednesday, June 26, 1996 file photo, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, center, passes in front of an honor guard in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Afghanistan, after being sworn in as prime minister, ending four years of bitter fighting among U.S. backed rebels who took control of Kabul from the communist regime. Hekmatyar today is a U.S.-declared terrorist in hiding fighting international forces in Afghanistan. His representatives have opened talks with President Hamid Karzaiâs political opponents, as well as Karzai. (AP Photo, File)
FILE - In this March 8, 2007 file photo, Afghan rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is seen in this photo grab from a video received by Associated Press Television in Karachi, Pakistan. Seeking to gain new leverage, a notorious Afghan warlord who was designated a "global terrorist" by the United States and blacklisted by the United Nations along with Osama bin Laden, wants to come out of the shadows. In videotaped remarks to the AP, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar casts himself as an interlocutor who can help bring about peace but it's hard to gauge what role, if any, the feared mujahedeen leader could play in Afghan politics. (AP Photo via AP video, File)
Fugitive Afghan rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is seen in this photo grab from a video received by Associated Press Television in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, March 8, 2007. Hekmatyar told The Associated Press his forces have ended cooperation with the Taliban and suggested that he was open to talks with embattled President Hamid Karzai. (AP Photo/Mohammad Khalil)
Afghan insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is seen in this photo grab from a DVD received by Associated Press Television in Pakistan, Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006. In this an undated video statement, Hekmatyar claims that America would be forced out of Afghanistan like the Soviet Union was. He also claimed that the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan helped the Democrats win last month's U.S. midterm elections. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)
Renegade guerilla leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar answers questions of reporters at an improvised press conference Saturday evening May 17, 1992 in Saroobi, Afghanistan. Hekmatyar said he was meeting with Defense minister Achmad Shah Masood soon. (AP PHoto/STR/Mirwais)
In keeping with Islamic tradition, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,center, offers his prayers to Allah right after he was sworn in as the new Afghan prime minister in Kabul Wednesday, June 26, 1996. The new Rabbani-Hekmatyar alliance ended four years of feuding that destroyed much of the Afghan capital of Kabul and killed more than 25,000 people.(AP Photo/Abdullah)
Renegade rebel chief of Afghanistan Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is seen, May 17, 1992. (AP Photo)
Renegade rebel chief Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks to reporters at a news conference in Saroobi, May 17, 1992. Hekmatyar says the new Islamic government has agreed to withdraw some 10,000 militia from Kabul and replace them with his fighters. He also claimed he had the support of dozens of prominent rebel commanders who helped topple the former communist regime. The government denies these statements. (AP Photo)
(FILES) In this frame grab taken on May 5, 2007, from a DVD delivered to AFP, renegade Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar answers AFP questions at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan. Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar vowed in an interview published on January 2, 2013 to kill as many Western soldiers as possible before NATO combat forces withdraw from the country in 2014. Hekmatyar, a former prime minister who leads Afghanistan's second largest militant group Hezb-i-Islami, told Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper that fresh attacks would send a warning to 'others waiting to invade Afghanistan'. AFP PHOTO/MASSOUD Hossaini (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
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The comments were provided to The Associated Press this week after being videotaped in Hekmatyar's hiding place, presumed to be somewhere in Pakistan, where he moved to after being ejected from Iran following the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that removed the Taliban from power. His associates insist, however, that the warlord is in Afghanistan.

Hekmatyar has led an extreme life; his mujahedeen followers have been responsible for the deaths of thousands during the devastating Afghan civil war.

In his student days, he was known for throwing acid in the faces of women who did not cover up. He switched allegiances on the battlefields, fighting first the Soviets, for which he received millions in cash and weaponry from Washington, then the Taliban.

In politics, he espoused radical Islam, served twice as Afghan prime minister and saw Hezb-i-Islami, the party he founded in 1969, fracture and abandon him. The party's military wing offered bin Laden shelter after the al-Qaida leader fled Sudan in 1996, according to the State Department.

But history has relegated Hekmatyar to the sidelines and political analyst Haroun Mir describes him today as a "spent force, frozen in time."

"We cannot deny him the status as a prominent leader during the anti-Soviet war," Mir said. Hekmatyar sees himself "as part of the dialogue, but he lives in a totally different world and does not see the realities on the ground."

Earlier this year, Hekmatyar sent an envoy to Kabul to meet with senior Afghan officials and offer his services as an interlocutor, an associate of his told the AP.

According to the associate and one Afghan official, the envoy met with President Ashraf Ghani and, possibly, other senior leaders. The president's office did not confirm the meetings had taken place. Both the associate and the official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secret nature of the subject.

Hekmatyar talks of an "inter-Afghan dialogue" that pointedly excludes neighboring Pakistan, which has been key mediator and host for Taliban-Kabul peace talks.

"If America and the Kabul government want peace, then this is the only way," Hekmatyar said while also ridiculing Ghani's government and claiming the real "authority in Kabul is with the American ambassador and the NATO forces commander."

"The defense ministry in Kabul is a mini-Pentagon and the presidential palace is a mini-White House," he added, with sarcasm.

Since the withdrawal of international combat forces at the end of last year, there are about 13,000 foreign troops, roughly 10,000 of them American, in Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO mandate is now to train and advise Afghan security forces.

The size of any following Hekmatyar could muster is difficult to gauge. The last known attack carried out by his militant group, Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, was in 2013, when at least 15 people, including six American soldiers, were killed in central Kabul.

Afghan security analyst Ali Mohammad Ali says Hekmatyar can no longer run a private army because "most of his people have joined the Taliban" or other militant groups, including the emerging Islamic State affiliate which has established a presence in Hekmatyar's former strongholds in eastern provinces bordering Pakistan.

"The Afghan people and the Afghan government will never accept his proposals," Ali said. "He has lost credibility."

Hekmatyar is said to have offered himself as interlocutor to former President Hamid Karzai in 2008, but was deflected amid concerns over his extremist reputation and human rights abuses.

"I was, I am and I will be here in my country when foreign forces leave," he said. "Then, with the grace of God, you will see me in Kabul."

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