U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday urged Afghanistan’s Taliban to follow the recent example of militant commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and make an “honorable” peace with the Kabul government.
Kerry told an international conference in Brussels that a peace deal signed last month by Hekmatyar, who heads the Hezb-i-Islami group and is designated a global terrorist by the U.S., was a “model for what might be possible.”
“There is a path toward an honorable end to the conflict that the Taliban have waged -– it is a conflict that cannot be won on the battlefield,” Kerry said at the donor conference in Belgium’s capital.
Hekmatyar’s deal requires him to cease violence, cut all ties with international militant groups and accept Afghanistan’s constitution including guarantees of rights for women and minorities.
In return the group “will be able to emerge from the shadows to rejoin Afghan society.”
He added: “The message for the Taliban would be: take note.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who signed the pact with Hekmatyar, told the Brussels conference: “Afghans can make peace, we will make peace, we are committed to constructive politics, not destructive politics.”
Hekmatyar, widely known as the “butcher of Kabul” in Afghanistan, was a prominent anti-Soviet commander in the 1980s who stands accused of killing thousands of people in the Afghan capital during the 1992-1996 civil war.
He is the latest in a series of controversial figures that Kabul has sought to reintegrate in the post-Taliban era by granting judicial immunity for past crimes.
But the Taliban themselves have resisted any peace deal and continue to push on with offensives, including against the Afghan city of Kunduz this week.
Kerry added that a peace deal would in fact achieve the Taliban’s aim of expelling foreign forces from Afghanistan, 15 years after a U.S.-led invasion drove the group from power.
“A political settlement negotiated with the Afghan government is the only way to end the fighting, ensure lasting stability, and achieve a full drawdown of international military forces, which is their goal,” he said.
“Their goal of ridding Afghanistan of external forces will not come by the continued insurgency, it will come by peace.”
Around 9,800 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan although numbers have reduced dramatically from their peak of 140,000 NATO-led soldiers in 2011.
The Brussels conference is expected to pledge more than $3 billion a year of development assistance to the Afghan government and Kerry said this was as sign that the world would stand by Afghanistan.