- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2012

A militant group responsible for the deaths of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan has rejoined peace talks with President Hamid Karzai’s government, and four other factions followed after Afghan security forces crushed an attack by terrorists in Kabul earlier this week.

Hizb-i-Islami, led by former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, returned to reconciliation talks after walking out last month.

Mr. Hekmatyar’s son-in-law, Ghairat Baheer, led a delegation of militants in a meeting with Mr. Karzai in Kabul this week.

“They came with a proposal for the peace negotiations,” said Mohammad MasoomStanekzai,secretary-general of the High Peace Council, tasked by the Afghan government with leading the process.

The militants demanded free, fair and transparent elections; a level political playing field; an anti-corruption effort; and the rule of law, Mr. Stanekzai told reporters in Washington on Thursday.

“These are some very common issues that are in the interests of the Afghan people,” he said.

The militants are showing “more flexibility” and “more realism,” he added.

The Hizb-i-Islami delegation also sought clarification on the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and reform of the Afghan Constitution.

President Obama wants to pull all U.S. combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Mr. Hekmatyar declared jihad against foreign forces in December 2002. The United States listed him as a “specially designated global terrorist” the next year. Hizb-i-Islami has ties to the Taliban, al Qaeda and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Its main area of operation is northeastern Afghanistan.

Since 2001, Hizb-i-Islami “has alternated between appalling attacks on U.S. forces and then Gulbuddin, himself, suing for peace with the Afghan government,” said Joshua Foust of the American Security Project.

“If I had to characterize them, I’d call them the little insurgents who could,” he added.

Karzai prompts process

Four other militant factions joined peace talks after Afghan security forces crushed an attack by terrorists in the heart of Kabul, Mr. Stanekzai said.

Thirty-six of the 37 terrorists were killed in a fierce battle that started Sunday and carried over into Monday.

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