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KABUL: An Afghan leader who lives in hiding has dropped a key condition for ending his war of more than 40 years with Kabul, an associate said on Tuesday.

According to Amin Karim, an official of the Hezb-i-Islami Party, the party’s leader, Gulbadin Hekmat­yar, is no longer demanding that all foreign troops leave Afghanistan.

Hekmatyar has been designated a “global terrorist” by the United States and blacklisted by the United Nations. He is said to live in Pakistan, though his supporters say he is in Afghanistan.

Last year, he briefly came out of the shadows to set his conditions for peace that included the withdrawal of foreign forces.

But on Tuesday Karim said that for Hekmatyar the “departure of foreign troops is not a condition, it is a goal”, and added that the warlord’s followers “have no conditions, we have principles”.

The move by Hekmatyar, whose current popularity is hard to gauge, is likely as much an overture to the government of President Ashraf Ghani as it is an attempt to stay relevant on the Afghan political scene.

Hekmatyar has led an extreme life; his mujahedeen followers were responsible for the deaths of thousands during the devastating Afghan civil war. He is said to have offered himself as interlocutor to former president Hamid Karzai in 2008, but was deflected amid concerns over his extremist reputation and human rights abuses. The last known attack carried out by his militant group was in 2013, when at least 15 people, including six American soldiers, were killed in central Kabul.

Ghani came to power in 2014 promising to end the 15-year war with the Taliban. A diplomatic offensive aimed at getting Pakistan to bring the Taliban into peace talks has so far failed, and this year is expected to be as brutal on the battlefield as 2015, when 11,000 civilians were killed or wounded, according to UN figures.

Afghan officials have said that a peace deal with Hekmatyar, a former prime minister of Afghanistan, could be useful in potentially convincing Taliban commanders on the battlefield to join the peace process.

Hekmatyar’s move to drop the condition on foreign forces could also raise questions among Taliban leaders and commanders about their own goals.

Like Hekmatyar and his followers, the Taliban have long said they are waging their insurgency to expel all foreign forces from Afghanistan.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2016