Amnesty offer for Omar, Hekmatyar

Agencies

Kabul, May 9:

An Afghan official assigned to make peace with Taliban-led militants said today that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and renegade former premier Gulbuddin Hekmatyar could be accepted back into Afghan society if they give up the fight.

Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, head of a peace commission set up this year, said talks were open to every Afghan ready to lay down arms and recognise president Hamid Karzai and the country’s new democratic constitution. Karzai has said dozens of militant leaders, including Omar and Hekmatyar, both top targets for 18,000 US-led troops battling insurgents in Afghanistan, were barred from an amnesty offer — but Mujaddedi said the restriction no longer applied.

“Sometimes policies towards some people change, and this was the old policy towards Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar,” Mujaddedi said at a news conference. “Our commission is independent and we want to deal with all individuals.” Mujaddedi said he had cleared his approach with the government. He said the amnesty would also cover Afghan detainees held at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

A US spokesman, colonel James Yonts, said, “Our position has been that those guilty of crimes must be responsible for their deeds.” “We believe the government of Afghanistan understands and supports that.” The US military hopes the reconciliation drive will draw the sting of a three-year-old insurgency, and allow them to withdraw some of their troops after parliamentary polls in September.

But American officials have said only “non-criminal” Taliban should be allowed to return without fear of prosecution and that Omar, Hekmatyar and others would be hunted down. Afghan officials claim dozens of commanders aligned with the Taliban and Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami faction have responded to the peace bid.

Mujaddedi said the commission didn’t know where Omar and Hekmatyar were to deliver its talks offer, but insisted the two were growing tired of “fleeing from cave to cave.”