Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday signed a peace agreement with one of the country's most notorious warlords, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the final step before the implementation of an immediate ceasefire.
"The objective of this agreement is to end the war in our country and keep our country secure, free, and sovereign," said Hekmatyar, who appeared at the ceremony in the presidential palace via video link.
High-ranking representatives from the government and Hekmatyar's Hezb-e Islami insurgent group were present for the signing, which was broadcast on state television.
The insurgent group, one of the country's largest, opposes international military intervention in Afghanistan and has fought against international troops and the Afghan government since the US-led invasion in 2001.
One of Hezb-e Islami's conditions for a peace deal was the exit of all foreign troops. The agreement stipulates that foreign troops should leave according to a "reasonable schedule."
Hezb-e Islami's deal with the Afghan government offers judicial immunity to all group members, and all Hezb-e-Islami prisoners in custody of the Afghan government are to be released within two months, according to a copy of the deal obtained by dpa.
The ceremony came days after Hekmatyar's delegation and representatives of the Afghan high peace council signed the last of many draft agreements.
Ghani said the signing of the deal "will show a path forward for other militant groups fighting Afghan government and foreign troops in the country."
Under the agreement, the Afghan government will send official requests to the UN Security Council and relevant agencies that "all restrictions against Hezb-e Islami be lifted."
The United States has declared Hekmatyar to be a global terrorist group and Hezb-e Islami a group of concern, although not a global terrorist organization.
In return, Hezb-e-Islami will cease supporting any group deemed terrorist by Afghanistan, dismantle all its military organizations and operate only as a political organization.
Hekmatyar is a one-time anti-Soviet guerrilla leader and former prime minister who was chiefly responsible for plunging the country into a bloody civil war after the 1992 fall of the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul.