KABUL — An Afghan insurgent leader blacklisted by the United Nations will join peace talks with the Kabul government, in a potential boost to flagging U.S. efforts to broker an end to Afghanistan’s years-long war.
In a statement Sunday, the notorious warlord and radical Islamist commander, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, said he is ready to participate in negotiations “to show Afghans that we want peace.”
“We see that the Americans want to fight, and most of the Kabul officials see peace as a threat to the power,” said the statement, which was posted online. “In spite of this, we are ready to participate in the talks.”
The announcement from Hekmatyar — who leads the group Hezb-i-Islami — comes one week after the Taliban leadership rejected talks with the government, refusing face-to-face meetings and postponing the peace process indefinitely. Negotiations had been scheduled to start earlier this month in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.
“Unless the occupation of Afghanistan is ended . . . such futile, misleading negotiations will not bear any fruit,” the Taliban said in a statement, blaming U.S. airstrikes and night raids for the ongoing fighting in places such as Helmand province.
The talks have been backed by the United States, China and Pakistan, whose ties to the Taliban leadership are an open secret.
Hekmatyar, too, is said to have links to Pakistan’s shadowy intelligence service. The U.S. State Department designated him a “global terrorist” in 2003 and just last week slapped sanctions on two of his group’s top explosives experts.
Hezb-i-Islami has attacked government targets and courted relations with the Afghan leadership in Kabul. It also has allied with the Taliban and squared off against Taliban insurgents on the battlefield.
It is unclear whether Hekmatyar’s participation will persuade the Taliban to join the process. Hekmatyar, 68, served briefly as prime minister in Kabul during the civil war in the 1990s, and became infamous for launching rocket attacks on his city.
A delegation dispatched by Hekmatyar was in Kabul on Sunday to confirm the insurgent leader’s cooperation with the government, one Afghan official said. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government fell apart last year after it was revealed that Taliban leader Mohammad Omar had died in 2013. The news of his death fractured the movement as the leadership sought to choose a successor.
Still, the insurgency has made steady gains in areas across Afghanistan in recent years. According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, a U.S. government watchdog, the Taliban controls more territory than it has since the U.S. invasion toppled its government in 2001.