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Afghan Insurgents Begin Talks with Karzai

A delegation from the Hezb-e-Islami group has initiated talks with President Karzai in Kabul in what is now the first confirmed direct contact between the group and Afghan leadership.  The Hezb-e-Islami group is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and has been known to have contacts with the Taliban; although, the two groups have recently come into conflict.  Hekmatyar, who is currently wanted by the U.S., leads a the large concentration of forces in north-eastern Afghanistan.

The delegation is led by Hekmatyar’s deputy, Qutbuddin Helal; both men are former prime ministers.  The delegation came to the talks with a list of demands, which included a withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan by this coming summer-a year ahead of President Obama’s plan to begin withdrawal.  The group also demanded new elections in the coming year and a new constitution.  A spokesman for Hekmatyar said, “[t]he main condition is the empowerment of President Karzai to . . . make decisions.”

Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami group-along with the Taliban-has been the source of much of the insurgent violence in the country.  The two groups had be allied in their opposition to the presence of foreign forces and the country’s central government.  However, earlier this month, at least sixty insurgents were killed during in-fighting in northern Afghanistan.  Hekmatyar received US military aid during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; however, he was later shunned for his part in the mutiny among the mujahideen which resulted in the death of more than 25,000 civilians.  In 2003, Hekmatyar was labeled a terrorist by the U.S. for his connections to al-Qaeda.

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