Gulbuddin Hekmatyar Image Credit: AP

Kabul: The UN Security Council has lifted sanctions on the notorious Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, previously branded “a global terrorist” and accused of widespread human rights abuses.

The move follows a landmark peace deal between Hekmatyar’s insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami (HIG) and the Afghan government in September last year, guaranteeing his amnesty and security despite protests by human rights groups.

It was the first such agreement since the Taliban launched their insurgency in 2001, paving the way for the former prime minister’s political comeback after nearly two decades in hiding.

The accord was praised by many foreign governments, including the United States, as a step towards peace in Afghanistan.

A statement on the UNSC’s website Friday said an assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo targeting Hekmatyar no longer applied.

Diplomatic sources said only Russia had opposed the move, though France was initially reluctant because of Hezb-e-Islami’s involvement in an ambush north-east of Kabul that cost the lives of 10 French soldiers in August 2008.

Hekmatyar was designated by the US as a “global terrorist” in 2003.

He was a major figure during the bloody civil war of the 1990s, accused of indiscriminately firing rockets into Kabul as well as other human rights abuses, but in recent years the country’s insurgent conflict has been led by the Taliban.

The whereabouts of the former prime minister, who was not present in Kabul for the signing of the agreement, remains unknown.

His return to Kabul and to mainstream politics was contingent partially on his removal from US and UN terror blacklists.

The Afghan government, as well as Hekmatyar aides and spokesman, were not immediately available for comment.