KABUL, Afghanistan — Calling the meeting a “source of hope” for the Afghan people, President Hamid Karzai on Thursday hosted the inaugural session of a new peace council set up to guide efforts to reconcile with the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
Karzai has long called on insurgents to renounce violence, sever ties to terrorists and embrace the Afghan Constitution. Contacts are increasing between the government and insurgents to find a political resolution to the conflict, which is key to any U.S. exit strategy in Afghanistan.
“The Afghan people in each province, district and village are expecting a lot from this peace council,” Karzai said on the ninth anniversary of the war.
“The high peace council is a source of hope for the Afghan people,” he said, adding that the international community is supporting the 70-member panel.
Publicly, the Taliban have said they won’t negotiate until foreign troops leave the country, yet many Taliban leaders have reached out directly or indirectly to the highest levels of the Afghan government. There have been no formal negotiations yet between the Afghan government and the Taliban, only some contacts and signals from each side, according to Karzai’s spokesman, Waheed Omar.
Addressing the opposition, Karzai said, “Once again I want to call on them to use this opportunity and welcome this effort and join in bringing peace in this country.”
Efforts to reconcile with the Taliban are not supported by all Afghans. Leaders of ethnic minorities remain concerned that negotiating with the Taliban will open a path for the hard-line fundamentalist group to regain power. Others argue that the peace council, comprising many members who fought against the Taliban, will have little success in guiding any talks.
Karzai said the government will co-operate with and assist the council but it would operate independently.