ISLAMABAD, Pakistan 

The leader of Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan on Wednesday announced starting separate negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to help bring peace to the war-torn country.

Speaking at the Institute of Policy Studies, an Islamabad-based think-tank, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is on a three-day visit to Pakistan, said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wants to remain in power — a big hurdle in intra-Afghan dialogue — that is under way in Doha, Qatar to end the 19-year-long conflict.

“We have decided to start our own negotiations with the Taliban. First, it would be between the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami, and then all other political parties will join us,” Hekmatyar announced.

Talks in the Gulf capital began last month after a US-Taliban peace deal was signed this February. Under the agreement, the US committed to withdraw all foreign forces from Afghanistan by July 2021. In return, the insurgents pledged to prevent terrorist groups from using the Afghan soil for attacks, and promised to seek reconciliation with other Afghan groups.

The dialogue is currently in its initial stages, with both sides trying to evolve consensus on the agenda and rules of engagement.

Hekmatyar accused Ghani of not consulting with political leaders before starting talks with the insurgents.

“We support the peace agreement signed between the US and the Taliban despite reservations,” he said. “Peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved without bringing all stakeholders on board.”

Criticizes Indian, Iranian involvement

The former mujahideen leader criticized India and Iran, saying these were the only two states supporting the Ghani administration.

“Iran supports the Kabul government as it has problems with the US, while India supports Ghani because of its issues with Pakistan,” he said, urging foreign powers to stop fighting proxy wars in Afghanistan.

“We have lost one million people in the war. We have six million refugees and over three million internally-displaced people. We cannot tolerate foreign forces anymore on our land to kill our innocent people,” he said.

Condemns India on Kashmir

Hekmatyar also spoke on the current situation in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, saying India should learn from the defeat of Soviet Union and NATO in Afghanistan, which proves force alone cannot resolve any issue.

“I condemn atrocities and barbarism against innocent people in Kashmir and other parts of the world,” he said. “The Kashmir issue cannot be resolved by force. India should resolve it as per the will of Kashmiri people.”

Praises Pakistan’s role

Hekmatyar said getting the Taliban to the negotiating table without Islamabad’s backing was not possible.

“I am happy that Pakistan has adopted a new policy, supporting the peace process, and reducing the tension between the two neighbors,” he said.

He said he discussed several issues, including the peace push, Afghan refugees, bilateral trade and student scholarships, with the Pakistani leadership.

To enhance bilateral trade and people-to-people contacts, he urged Pakistan to allow Afghans to open bank accounts easily, buy properties and run businesses.

During his visit, Hekmatyar met President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, among others.

This is the second high-level visit from Afghanistan in recent weeks. Abdullah Abdullah, the chief of Afghan High Peace Council, also visited Pakistan last month.

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