President Karzai (file photo)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has confirmed that all Afghan militants -- including the leader of the former Taliban regime -- are technically eligible for an amnesty offer. But Karzai says he does not expect the most senior Taliban officials or others allied with Al-Qaeda to take up the offer. Karzai made the remarks today in Strasbourg after addressing the European Parliament. He was speaking one day after an announcement on the amnesty by Sebaghatullah Mojadeddi, the head of Afghanistan's peace and reconciliation commission.
Prague, 10 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- In the past, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had stressed that an amnesty offer for Taliban fighters who lay down their weapons was available only to rank-and-file militants.
Karzai had ruled out any amnesty for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, renegade Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, or about 150 other hard-core Islamic fighters that Kabul considers to be terrorists.
But today, Karzai explained to journalists in Strasbourg why the head of Afghanistan's peace and reconciliation commission, Sebaghatullah Mojadeddi, now says Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar are eligible for the amnesty.
"That offer is there to all. Those who are part of Al-Qaeda, those who are part of terrorism, they will not come anyway because there is no place for them. But anybody that wants to move away from being used against our country and wants to live a legitimate life in Afghanistan is welcome. And that is what Professor Mojadeddi has said," Karzai said.
Karzai explained that Mojadeddi's commission is studying ways to bring peace and stability to all of Afghanistan.
"There is an independent commission in Afghanistan headed by a very senior [and] a very respected Afghan gentleman -- Professor Mojadeddi -- to find out ways of strengthening peace in Afghanistan, [of] strengthening stability in Afghanistan. He is working together with a commission of elders and clergy and lawyers from different parts of the country," Karzai said.
Karzai did not mention Mullah Omar or Hekmatyar by name. But he said the ultimate goal of the amnesty program is to give all willing Afghans a chance to join in a peaceful political process.
"The effort is to bring all those Afghans who are, for any reason, away from the country -- for reasons of fear, for whatever the reason may be. Afghanistan is the home of all Afghans, and those who don't want to fight, those who don't want to be used by outside elements against their own country, are welcome to participate as civilians in Afghanistan under the laws of the country," Karzai said.
Mojadeddi said in Kabul yesterday that the Afghan government's policy has changed regarding the eligibility of Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar for the amnesty.
"If the government had announced something in the past regarding Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar, it was the policy of the past. The policy is changing every day. When I accepted the leadership of this commission, it was on the basis of its independence. The peace that we want is for all. There is no exception. It doesn't matter who belongs to Hekmatyar's faction or the Taliban or other groups that may be dissatisfied or afraid to come back to Afghanistan. So our call is general and includes everyone," Mojadeddi said.
Mojadeddi said armed militants will be accepted for the amnesty provided they lay down their weapons, accept Afghanistan's new constitution, and obey the decrees of Karzai's government. He said Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar should be given time to discuss and think about the offer.
Mojadeddi also said his commission has independent powers to decide who is eligible for the amnesty. He said 50 to 60 militants have approached the government and met the conditions for joining the reconciliation program. They include former Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, as well as members of Hekmatyar's Islamist faction.
"With respect to Mr. Hekmatyar, currently about 40 or 50 of his commanders and members of his leadership council already have joined us. They've been with us for a year. Even during the presidential election [in October 2004], they helped a lot. And they are ready to help in the next elections. They are with us," Mojadeddi said.
A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, Colonel James Yonts, suggested to "The New York Times" that an amnesty for Mullah Omar is out of the question.
While not specifically mentioning the Taliban leader, Yonts said all individuals guilty of terrorism and other serious crimes will not be allowed to join in the amnesty. Yonts said all candidates for the amnesty will be screened by the National Security Council and intelligence officers.
Washington is offering a $10 million bounty for Mullah Omar because of his role in sheltering Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for five years before the attacks of 11 September 2001.
American military commanders have said that Hekmatyar is also wanted in connection with terrorist attacks against U.S. forces.