KABUL — One of the main insurgent groups in Afghanistan has floated the possibility of participating in the country’s 2014 presidential election -- with a major caveat.

Hezb-i-Islami, seen by many as the most likely wing of the insurgency to make a deal with Kabul, would consider participating in the 2014 presidential poll if foreign troops leave before the election, the group’s political adviser said.

“We believe in elections,” Hezb-i-Islami political adviser Ghairat Baheer said. “Elections are one of the rules of Hezb-i-Islami, but transparent elections can’t happen with the presence of foreigners in Afghanistan. We have seen the last elections in Afghanistan and the widespread fraud and how many problems they had.”

The election is set for April 5, 2014, almost nine months before the current deadline for international combat troops to leave Afghanistan by Dec. 31, 2014. NATO has said there will be a residual force of military advisers for some time after that, so it is unlikely that Hezb-i-Islami’s demand will be met. The announcement, though, could signal a new willingness by the movement to make peace, and any insurgent participation would likely lessen the chances for election day violence, said Younis Fakoor, an independent political analyst.

“If even a small part of Hezb-i-Islami joins elections, and the same with the Taliban, it is positive for the elections, both politically and from a security standpoint,” he said.

Though the largely Pashtun movement has been weakened since one faction joined the Afghan government several years ago, Fakoor said it retains support in a large swath of Afghanistan’s central and northern provinces and could be a force in elections if seen as an alternative to politicians from the largely Tajik north.

“If Hezb-i-Islami joins politics in coalition with other Pashtun groups in opposition to the [mostly Tajik] Northern Alliance, they could do well,” he said.

Hezb-i-Islami has long been seen as a moderate force among the insurgency and the most likely major militant group to make peace with the government, though that image was tarnished by a September suicide bombing in Kabul that killed 12, including several Afghan civilians. Unlike the Taliban or Haqqani Network, Hezb-i-Islami has been careful to avoid attacking Afghan forces, instead focusing its attacks on foreign troops.

The Independent Elections Commission of Afghanistan, which will oversee the polling, has said it would welcome participation from any insurgent groups, opening the possibility, however remote, that those still actively fighting the central government could also be on the ballot.

“If they want to participate in the Afghan election, they are most welcome, and that’s their right if they’re Afghan,” Afghan Independent Elections Commission spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor said.

Despite its overtures, though, Hezb-i-Islami stopped short of promising it would not attack polling places on election day if its conditions are not met. Speaking from Pakistan, Haroon Zarghoon, spokesman for the group’s military wing, would only guarantee safety for a completely Afghan election effort.

“If the process is Afghan, we will not have any problem with that,” he said.

Zubair Babakarkhail contributed to this report.

druzinh@estripes.osd.milTwitter: @Druzin_Stripes

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