KABUL -- Hundreds of Afghans have staged a protest against Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, hours after the notorious militant leader held a large rally in Kabul to mark his return to the country under a peace deal with the government.
The rally at a stadium and the protest outside Hekmatyar's government-funded residence in western Kabul on May 5 underscored deep divisions over the longtime militant leader, whose Hezb-e Islami group was responsible for some of deadliest violence in the civil war that engulfed Afghanistan in the 1990s.
They came a day after Hekmatyar, who recently returned to Afghanistan following more than two decades in self-imposed exile, arrived in Kabul.
Holding photographs of people allegedly killed by Hezb-e Islami in the bloody 1992-96 conflict, demonstrators demanded the government put Hekmatyar on trial for crimes they accuse him of committing. There were no reports of violence during the protest.
Forces loyal to Hekmatyar, known as the "Butcher of Kabul," have been accused of gross human rights violations during the internecine war, in which the group stands accused of killing thousands of people in the capital.
Thousands of Hekmatyar supporters attended the rally at Ghazi Stadium, waving the green flags of his group and shouting "Long Live Islam!" and "Allahu Akbar!" (God is great).
Hezb-e Islami signed a peace agreement with President Ashraf Ghani's government in September.
Under the deal, Hezb-e Islami have pledged they would lay down their weapons and end their insurgency against the Afghan government throughout the country.
The agreement also says that Hezb-e Islami militia fighters who are interested in joining government forces will be "integrated" into the Afghan national security forces.
In exchange, Hezb-e Islami prisoners will be released from Afghan jails, among other provisions of the agreement.
At the rally, Hekmatyar called for all insurgent groups fighting the government, including the Taliban, to end what he said was a war "imposed" on Afghanistan from outside the country.
"In every province, there are mass graves," he said, adding that the continuation of the war will only kill more Afghans. "Our country now needs peace."
"Let's bring peace to the country first and tell the foreign forces that Afghans are able to sort out their issues themselves and we want them to leave Afghanistan," he added. "No one has any justification for the presence of foreign troops."
He also called on the government to fulfill its promises under the peace deal, including the release of hundreds of Hezb-e Islami fighters in Afghan prisons.
A day earlier, Hekmatyar met Ghani at the presidential palace, where a ceremony was held in his honor.
During the gathering, Hekmatyar called on his Taliban "brothers" to end their insurgency and offered to mediate talks with the government.
The government’s peace deal with Hekmatyar has been criticized by many Afghans and by Western rights groups. Critics point to his dismal human rights record and his group’s deadly attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces since the U.S.-led invasion that drove the Taliban from power after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.
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 1993-94 and then briefly again in 1996, was one of the chief protagonists of the civil war. Rights groups accuse Hekmatyar of responsibility for the shelling of residential areas of Kabul in the 1990s, as well as forced disappearances and covert jails where torture was commonplace.