KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that he personally held peace talks recently with the insurgent faction Hizb-i-Islami, appearing to assert his own role in a U.S.-led bid for negotiations to end the country's decade-long war.
Karzai made the announcement hours before he was to meet with American special representative Marc Grossman to discuss progress and plans for bringing the Taliban insurgency into formal talks for the first time.
"Recently, we met with a delegation from Hizb-i-Islami ... and had negotiations," Karzai told a meeting of the Afghan parliament, adding, "We are hopeful that these negotiations for peace continue and we will have good results."
Hizb-i-Islami is a radical Islamist militia that controls territory in Afghanistan's northeast and launches attacks against U.S. forces from Pakistan. Its leader, powerful warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is a former U.S. ally now listed as a terrorist by Washington.
Karzai's statement was also a reminder that any negotiations to end Afghanistan's war will be more complex than just talking to the Taliban. Besides Hizb-i-Islami, there is the powerful Haqqani network. All the insurgent factions have separate leaderships and priorities.
By showing he can bring other factions to the negotiating table, Karzai may hope to increase his standing in a tentative peace process that has recently been dominated by Washington. The U.S. has repeatedly said that formal negotiations must be Afghan-led, but Karzai is reportedly uneasy with his government not being directly involved in recent preliminary talks with Taliban representatives.
"It should be mentioned that the Afghan nation is the owner of the peace process and negotiations," Karzai said. "No foreign country or organization can prevent (Afghans) from exercising this right."
U.S. representative Grossman recently stressed that any future negotiations would include Afghanistan's government, and said he would meet Karzai on Saturday to discuss the way forward.