Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (centre), leader of Hezb-e-Islami, with participants after the opening session of Afghan Peace Conference in Bhurban. Image Credit: AP

Bhurban: Afghan presidential candidate and veteran leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has said that the departure of foreign troops is not only the demand of the Taliban but most Afghans desire an end to all sorts of foreign interference in country’s affairs.

“This is the demand of Taliban as well as the majority of Afghan people,” Hekmatyar said in an interview with Gulf News in Pakistan’s summer resort town of Bhurban, near Islamabad, where he was invited to attend Afghan Peace Conference.

The former Mujahideen leader and now a partner in Afghanistan government urged all Afghan leaders to sit together to find a peaceful solution to the current crisis.

Talking to Gulf News, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar expressed his desire for a negotiated settlement and added that platforms such as the Bhurban Conference were an “opportunity for Afghans to reach a peaceful solution.” He also thanked Pakistan for hosting the summit and said, “We appreciate every step in the direction of peace”.

The white-bearded Afghan leader clad in his iconic black turban stressed that the 18-year war in Afghanistan should come to an end now and hoped that US President Donald Trump was sincere in his desire to pull back troops. “US is also tired of this war,” he said adding that “every war eventually ends in peace.” He stated “There can be no peace without foreign forces leaving Afghanistan.”

The 69-year-old former premier who has been partner with Afghan President Ghani for two years urged that the future Afghan system should reflect the desires and wishes of Afghan people and their religious and national interests. He reminded that “only Afghan people have the right to set up their own future government through a transparent and independent elections”.

Discussing the role of regional countries for peace in Afghanistan, Hekmatyar observed that “Pakistan can play a positive role and has already made efforts to bring Taliban to the negotiating table” — an endeavour that has also been recognised by US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

Elaborating the conditions for a long-lasting solution and peace agreement in Afghanistan, the Hezb-e-Islami said that guarantee of withdrawal of foreign forces and consensus among all Afghan parties is important for the peaceful future of Afghanistan. Supporting democratic process, Hekmatyar pointed out “lasting peace can be achieved if all stakeholders accept that the only one way to power is through elections.”

Answering a question on blame-game between Islamabad and Kabul, Hekmatyar said, “We believe that no one should be allowed to use Afghan soil against its own enemy”.

He visualised an “independent and a balanced foreign policy for Afghanistan”, saying, “If we are inclined towards one power then it would prolong the conflict.” He said: “Afghan impartiality and national sovereignty should be guaranteed in any future system or agreement.”

Who is Hekmatyar?

Former prime minister and Afghan reconciled leader of Hezb-e-Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is one of the eighteen candidates competing in the 2019 presidential elections in Afghanistan.

He returned to Kabul in May 2017 after signing a peace deal with the government, ending his 20-year-long self-imposed exile. He is the founder of Hezb-e-Islami, which played a leading role in the war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s. Hekmatyar is known as a prolific orator and writer who has authored dozens of books, mostly religious and political analysis.

He lived in Pakistan for over a decade. He speaks Dari (Farsi), Pashto, Urdu, Arabic and English. Hekmatyar is now a member of the Reconciliation Leadership Council led by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to oversee talks with the Taliban.