Russia denies US accusations of funding and sending weapons to the Taliban.
Laghman, Afghanistan – Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Afghanistan’s Hezb-i-Islami, has called on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table in his first public appearance in 20 years.
At least 200 people welcomed Hekmatyar on Saturday in Afghanistan’s eastern Laghman province, where he had been conducting meetings with members of his team for the past two days.
“Ask the militants who are they fighting with? The government? The people – the innocent people of Afghanistan?” Hekmatyar said at the public gathering.
“If you lay down your guns and come forward, I will be the first one to call you my brother. To the Taliban, [I say] come forward, let’s talk about peace and prosperity, and join us in this peace process in Afghanistan.”
Hekmatyar is expected to make a speech in the coming days in Kabul, where many Afghans have mixed feelings about his return.
Large posters of Hekmatyar and his group members were seen lying torn on streets.
“Dwelling on the past events will bring nothing to this country. If we hold on to what he did in the past, we will never move forward,” Zakariya Safari, who was present at the gathering, said.
“But at the same time, we cannot be sure whether Hekmatyar’s return will bring any peace to the country because it is not as easy as it sounds.
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“It will require many groups and individuals who have different ideologies and beliefs to come to one solution. It does not seem that easy to me.”
Hekmatyar founded Hezb-i-Islami in the mid-1970s. He briefly accepted the position of prime minister in an administration following the collapse of a Soviet-backed government in 1992.
Hekmatyar was designated as a “terrorist” by the US state department in 2003, but in February, the UN Security Council lifted sanctions on him, which paved the way for his to return to Afghanistan.