Kabul/UNITED NATIONS - Afghanistan signed a draft agreement on Wednesday with the Hezb-e-Islami militant group in a move the government hopes could lead to a full peace accord with one of the most notorious warlords in the insurgency.

Hezb-e-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is a veteran of decades of Afghan war and rights groups have accused his group of widespread abuses, particularly during civil war in the early 1990s, when he briefly served as prime minister.

The United States which has also linked the group to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and put Hekmatyar on its designated terrorist list, welcomed the development.

The group has played only a minor role in the Taliban-led insurgency in recent years and the deal is unlikely to have any immediate practical impact on security.

But with little sign that the Taliban are ready to join peace talks, the deal offers President Ashraf Ghani's government a concrete sign that it is making headway in drawing insurgent groups away from the battlefield and into the political process.

Mohammad Khan, deputy to government Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, said the draft accord was a positive step but more work would be needed for a final deal.

"We are optimistic about this agreement and we strongly support it," he told reporters in Kabul before the accord was signed by a delegation from Hekmatyar's party and officials from Afghanistan's High Peace Council. But he added: "This doesn't mean it's finalised."

Human rights groups have criticised the move towards a deal with Hekmatyar's group but the pressure on the government for some sign of progress in bringing peace appears to have outweighed the concerns.

Under the terms of the draft, members of Hezb-e-Islami would be offered an amnesty, similar to that offered in 2007 to warlords accused of war crimes as well as a release of prisoners held by Afghan authorities.

The government would also work to have the group removed from a UN black list.

The group, which for years had close ties with Pakistan, would not join the government but would be recognised as a political party and be involved in major political decisions.

In 2003, the US State Department included Hekmatyar on its terrorist list, accusing him of participating in and supporting attacks by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

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His group was most recently blamed for a 2013 attack in Kabul, in which two US soldiers and four US civilian contractors as well as eight Afghans were killed.

However, the United States has welcomed the ongoing political negotiations between the Afghan government and Hezb-e-Islami, saying all relevant groups should be part of such a dialogue to end the conflict in Afghanistan.

“We support an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process for a negotiated resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan,” John Kirby, spokesman of the US Department of State, told reporters at the daily press briefing.

"All relevant groups, including Hezb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, should be a part of such a political dialogue so that Afghans can talk directly to other Afghans about the future of their country," he said while answering a question.

“So in this regard, we would welcome political negotiations that have been taking place. Among the Afghan government, the Afghan High Peace Council, and the representatives of the group,” he added.

Meanwhile, he said the United States will continue to seek reconciliation conditions, including that any reconciled group must end the violence.

“These are end conditions, not preconditions – that any reconciled group must end violence, break associations with international terrorism, and accept Afghanistan’s constitution, as we’ve said many times, which includes the protection for women and for minorities,” Kirby said.

“So we don’t have preconditions going into this, but this is an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned process.”