Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday that he personally held peace talks recently with the insurgent faction Hizb-i-Islami, appearing to assert his own role in a US-led bid for negotiations to end the country’s decade-long war.
Karzai made the announcement hours before he met with US special representative Marc Grossman to discuss progress and plans for bringing the Taliban insurgency into formal talks for the first time.
“Recently, we met with a delegation from Hizb-i-Islami ... and had negotiations,” Karzai told a meeting of the Afghan parliament.
“We are hopeful that these negotiations for peace continue and we will have good results,” he added.
Karzai’s statement was a reminder that any negotiations to end Afghanistan’s war will be more complex than just talking to the Taliban’s Pakistan-based leadership, headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar. The two other main insurgent factions in the country have their own leaders and agendas.
Hizb-i-Islami is a radical Islamist militia that controls territory in Afghanistan’s northeast and launches attacks against US forces from Pakistan. Its leader, powerful warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is a former US ally now listed as a terrorist by Washington.
Based over the Pakistan border, Hekmatyar has ties to al-Qaeda and has launched deadly attacks on US troops in Afghanistan. Fighters loyal to Hekmatyar also have strongholds in Baghlan, Kunduz and Kunar provinces in the north and northeast Afghanistan.
The other main insurgent group is the feared Haqqani network, which maintains close ties to both al-Qaeda and the Taliban and commands the loyalties of an estimated 10,000 fighters.
By showing he can bring at least one major faction to the negotiating table, Karzai may hope to boost his standing in a tentative peace process that has recently been dominated by Washington. The president has met before with representatives of Hekmatyar, whose political allies hold seats in the Afghan parliament and Cabinet, but Saturday’s public announcement seemed intended to bolster Karzai’s insistence on inclusion in the US-led peace process.
“It should be mentioned that the Afghan nation is the owner of the peace process and negotiations,” Karzai said. “No foreign country or organization can prevent [Afghans] from exercising this right.”
The US has repeatedly said that formal negotiations must be Afghan-led, but Karzai is reportedly uneasy with his government not being directly involved in recent preliminary talks with Taliban representatives.
Grossman began meeting with Karzai on Saturday, the US embassy said. Grossman stressed that any future negotiations would include Afghanistan’s government.
French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet also arrived in Kabul on Saturday for talks with Afghan officials after Paris suspended training missions following the killing of four French troops by an Afghan soldier, the latest in a rising number of assaults in which Afghan security forces or infiltrators have turned their guns on coalition forces.
After a briefing with an Afghan general, Longuet said in footage broadcast on France’s LCI TV that the killer was a 21-year-old former soldier “who deserted, who went to Pakistan, who re-engaged in the Afghan army.”
Earlier in the day, Longuet said his mission in Kabul was to “evaluate the attitude our officials should take” in the future.