Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s return to Kabul eight months after a peace deal is a sign of change for Afghanistan – it is still unclear however, whether this change will be positive or negative in the efforts to ultimately bring peace to the country. The veteran warlord is well known for his leadership of Hezb-e-Islami in the 1990s, one of seven warring factions that engaged in the brutal and bloody war for control of Afghanistan, which ultimately led to the Afghan Taliban wresting control.

While his statements towards the Afghan Taliban are conciliatory and recommend a non-violent approach to peace, the Afghan Taliban might not be ready to listen to a former arch-enemy who has perceivably given up on the principles of armed struggle against the ‘foreign invader’ – something many veteran militant leaders still hold very close to their heart. In 1996, when Hekmatyar was forced out of Kabul (by the Taliban) many wished for the Taliban to takeover, because the group was seen as more humane than Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e-Islami. One can only wonder how much the exiled leader – once known as the Butcher of Kabul and ‘Rocketyar’ – changed in these 20 years, and whether his violent days are an element of bygone days.

With that said, many experts believe that the days of his military faction being one to fear are well behind him. But while there is nothing to fear from Hekmatyar’s return to Kabul in terms of him eliciting the support of local militants, it remains to be seen whether anyone from within the Taliban would be willing to listen to the advice to give up on armed struggle, especially when many see the non-state actor with the upper-hand in the fight against the Afghan state.

There is also the added factor of introducing yet another piece in the Afghanistan puzzle, one that seems too hard to solve at times. While Hekmatyar has publicly given up on his quest for armed supremacy, it is not altogether clear if he has forsaken all political ambitions as well.

It is ironic that a man accused of killing thousands of people and shelling the Afghan capital has now returned with the government’s support to the city he nearly destroyed in his campaign. However, what this tells us is that the Afghan government is prepared to take the conciliatory stance when needed with non-state actors. It will have to be flexible in the days to come; negotiating with the Afghan Taliban is the only sure-fire way to bring peace to the country.