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Afghan president announces council for talks

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KABUL – Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday he had appointed members of a committee that will aim to talk peace with the Taliban, including warlords, ex-insurgent commanders and Muslim clerics.


Karzai has been pushing to open a dialogue with the Taliban leadership

“Today we will announce the list of the High Peace Council members,” Karzai said during a ceremony marking Afghanistan’s national literacy day.

His office released a list of 68 people hand-picked by Karzai to lead his efforts to broker a peace deal with Taliban and other insurgents fighting to topple his Western-backed administration.

The list included former president and warlord Burhanuddin Rabani, warlords Abdul Rab Rasoul Sayaf and Haji Mohammad Mohaqiq — all key figures in the resistance during the 1996-2001 Taliban rule over the country.

These commanders helped the United States and other Western allies topple the Taliban from power in late 2001.

The creation of the council was a key decision made in June at a “peace jirga” in Kabul attended by community, tribal, religious and political leaders from across the country.

Dozens of pro-government Islamic clerics, former government officials and tribal elders are also part of the new council, along with at least seven women, Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omer said.

“This council is mandated to broker peace through negotiation and reconciliation” with the Taliban, Omer told reporters.

“The mandate given to the High Council for Peace is a big mandate. The government will respect their mandate,” he said.

Karzai has been pushing to open a dialogue with the Taliban leadership aimed at speeding an end to the war heading into its 10th year — but the Taliban have rejected talks unless NATO-led foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

Officials have said the council would include former members of the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami, a militant group led by former prime minister and mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami is currently in a tenuous alliance with the Taliban, although both sides remain suspicious of each other.

“There are sisters on the list, too,” Karzai said earlier Tuesday, without naming any of the women to be appointed.

But a rights watchdog characterised the members as “unlikely peacemakers” and noted women’s representation of just 11 percent.

“There are too many names here that Afghans will associate with war crimes, warlordism and corruption,” said Rachel Reid, Afghan analyst with New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“This is a disappointing outcome for Afghan women and girls. Women are once again being short changed. The government had promised them more robust representation than this,” she said.

Omer said that one more woman would be added to bring the total to eight.

HRW has been vocal in opposing any erosion of women’s rights as a cost of opening a dialogue with the insurgents, who banned women from education, work or leaving their homes without male relatives during their brutal regime.

The United States and NATO have more than 150,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban-led insurgency, most of them in the southern hotspots of Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Karzai renewed his call Tuesday for the Taliban to stop fighting and join the peace process.

“Compatriots! Do not destroy your land for other’s interests. Do not kill your people for other’s interests, do not close down schools for other’s interests,” he said a speech at a Kabul high school, referring to insurgents.

Karzai has made indirect references to Pakistan and other neighbouring countries allegedly supporting the Taliban for long-term strategic interests. On occasions he has named Pakistan directly.

“Taliban and others, if they consider themselves from this country, and consider themselves Muslims and Afghans, must know every bullet they fire is a bullet at the heart of this land and at the interest of enemies of this land,” he said.

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