Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's group said on May 11 that it will not hand over its weapons, despite pledging to do so as part of a peace deal signed with the government in September.
The decision prompted a rebuke from President Ashraf Ghani's office, with a spokesman urging Hezb-e Islami to adhere to the agreement, under which the militant group pledged to lay down its arms and end its insurgency.
Under the deal, Hezb-e Islami fighters interested in joining government forces could be integrated into the Afghan security forces.
Hezb-e Islami's refusal to lay down their arms will raise concerns over the deal with Hekmatyar, one of the country's most notorious warlords, who returned to Kabul last week following more than two decades in self-imposed exile.
Hezb-e Islami spokesman Qareem ur Rahman said on May 11 that it was "necessary" for the group's 3,500 militia fighters to keep their weapons for protection from extremist organizations such as the Taliban and Islamic State (IS).
"Our [fighters] have come under attacks from militants," said Rahman. "If they put down their weapons who will guarantee their safety?"
Rahman said the group's fighters would not fight "against the government" and was willing to battle militants alongside national security forces.
A spokesman for Ghani, Dawa Khan Menapal, said the security of the country was the government's "responsibility" and that Hezb-e Islami's concerns were "unwarranted."
"Under the peace agreement signed with Hezb-e Islami, their protection is the responsibility of the government," said Menapal.
Defense Ministry spokesman Dawlat Waziri said preparations were under way to integrate Hezb-e Islami members, provided they met selection criteria.
"Joining the national army is voluntary and anyone who meets certain eligibility criteria can join to serve, and that includes Hezb-e Islami members," he said.
Hezb-e Islami has drawn up a list of 3,500 fighters for vetting and has handed over some 80 names, mostly senior officers, to a special government commission set up to oversee the integration, said Karim Amin, one of Hekmatyar's advisers.
The controversial peace deal has been criticized by many Afghans and by Western rights groups, which accuse Hekmatyar's forces of gross human rights violations during Afghanistan's civil war in the 1990s and cite their deadly attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces since the U.S.-led invasion that drove the Taliban from power in 2001.
Hekmatyar founded Hezb-e Islami in the mid-1970s. The group become one of the main mujahedin factions fighting against Soviet forces following their invasion in 1979, and then one of the most prominent groups in the civil war for control of Kabul after the collapse of the communist government in 1992 in the wake of the Soviet army's withdrawal from Afghanistan three years earlier.
Hekmatyar, who had been prime minister in the mujahedin government from 1993 to 1994 and then briefly again in 1996, was one of the chief protagonists of the civil war. Rights groups accuse Hekmatyar of shelling residential areas of Kabul in the 1990s as well as orchestrating forced disappearances and establishing covert jails where torture was commonplace.
With reporting by Reuters