Afghanistan signs draft deal with militant Hekmatyar

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Still from video released to AP in November 2015 shows Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, now in his late 60s, in an undisclosed location.Image source, AP
Image caption,
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, now in his late 60s, has been in hiding for many years

Afghanistan's government has signed a draft peace agreement with the Hezb-e-Islami militant group.

The rebel group is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a veteran of Afghan conflicts in recent decades and one of the country's most notorious militants.

There are hopes the deal will lead to a peace agreement with the Hezb-e-Islami.

The group has been linked to al-Qaeda and is accused of widespread civil rights abuses. Mr Hekmatyar has been designated a terrorist by the US.

Hezb-e-Islami has played a minor role in the Taliban insurgency in recent years and so the deal is not expected to improve security in the country.

Mohammad Khan, deputy to the Afghan government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, hailed the draft agreement as a positive step.

"We are optimistic about this agreement and we strongly support it," he told reporters in Kabul.

But he added: "This doesn't mean it's finalised."

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, centre, was Afghan prime minister in the 1990s

Sayed Zafar Hashemi, deputy spokesman for President Asraf Ghani, said the agreement was at the "endorsement and verification phases" but had not yet been signed by the president.

Under the terms of the deal, the government would grant members of Hezb-e-Islami amnesty, and lobby the UN to have the group removed from a blacklist.

The group would not join the government but would be recognised as an official political party.

Human rights groups have criticised the move towards a deal with Mr Hekmatyar, who was briefly prime minister of Afghanistan in the early 1990s.