The Afghan government has appointed nearly 70 people to a new High Peace Council, formalizing efforts already under way to reconcile with top Taliban leaders and lure insurgent foot soldiers off the battlefield.
Presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said Tuesday that the council will guide contacts with Taliban leaders who have reached out directly or through back channels to the highest levels of the government.
The council comprises jihadi leaders, former Taliban, former members of the communist regime, civil and religious leaders and representatives of women and ethnic groups from across the nation.
The Afghan government says it will reconcile with those who renounce violence, embrace the Afghan constitution and sever ties with terrorists.
Blast kills deputy governor
The news came after a suicide car bomber killed a deputy governor and five others Tuesday in eastern Afghanistan, prompting President Hamid Karzai to urge Afghans to decry such violence.
The explosion occurred when the official was driving in Ghazni city toward his office, said Ghazni province Police Chief Zarawar Zahid. The bomber rammed a motorized rickshaw into one of the vehicles in the two-car convoy, sparking a large blast.
The dead included Deputy Gov. Khazim Allayar, his adult son, a nephew and a bodyguard, Zahid said. Two civilians nearby were also killed in the blast and a number of others wounded, he said.
Allayar had held the post for more than seven years. He survived a bombing attempt just two months ago in Ghazni city.
"Our sons cannot go to school because of bombs and suicide attacks. Our teachers cannot go to school because of clashes and threats of assassination. Schools are closed," Karzai said during a speech in the capital about literacy efforts in the country.
Karzai said he worries that those among Afghanistan's youth who can flee have no choice but to abandon their country. They go to school abroad and then become estranged from Afghanistan.
"I don't want my son Mirwais to be a foreigner. I want Mirwais to be Afghan," Karzai said, breaking into tears on the podium.
To the Taliban he said: "My countrymen, do not destroy your own soil to benefit others."
He said that the people of Afghanistan, buffeted by war for decades, are once again victims in the current fight.
"Now NATO is here and they say they are fighting terrorism, and this is the 10th year and there is no result yet," he said, explaining that Afghans are caught up in the violence between the goals of Western powers and militants backed by other countries.
"Whoever has any problem, they come to Afghanistan to find a solution," he said.
Much of the anger at outsiders comes from the tense relationship between Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan, which militants use as a safe haven for launching attacks and planning strategy.
Karzai has regularly called on the international community to spend more effort chasing down insurgents across the border in Pakistan, a contentious issue because NATO forces do not want to be seen as an invading force. The international coalition has therefore depended mostly on drones for attacks in Pakistan, but manned aircraft have also crossed the border in pursuit of insurgents.
Most recently, Pakistan has been protesting NATO helicopter strikes that killed more than 70 militants last week, saying that United Nations rules do not allow the choppers to cross into its airspace even in hot pursuit of insurgents.
NATO said it launched the strikes in self-defence after militants attacked a small security post in Afghanistan near the border.
The dispute over the strikes only fuels unease between the two countries. The Pakistani military has fought Pakistani Taliban fighters, but it has resisted pressure to move against the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network. The Haqqanis, who control vast stretches of territory in North Waziristan and the bordering Afghan province of Khost, carry out attacks in Afghanistan — but not in Pakistan.