A "peace council" established Tuesday by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to negotiate with the Taliban includes the man who is thought to have invited Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan and another who served as a mentor to the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The High Council for Peace's inclusion of former warlords and ex-Taliban officials is seen by some as antithetical to the body's goal of ending the 9-year-old insurgency. Sixty-eight of the council's 70 members have been announced.
"Many of these men are unlikely peacemakers," said Rachel Reid, an Afghan-based Human Rights Watch analyst. "There are too many names here that Afghans will associate with war crimes, warlordism and corruption."
Those names include Ustad Abdul Rabi Rasul Sayyaf, a former mujahedeen commander who is thought to have invited bin Laden to Afghanistan after the al Qaeda leader was expelled from Sudan in 1996, and Abdul Hakim Mujahid, who served as the Taliban's permanent representative to the United Nations.
In setting up the peace council, Mr. Karzai on Tuesday formalized efforts to reconcile with Taliban leaders and coax less-ideological fighters off the battlefield. His spokesman, Waheed Omar, described the council as the "sole body to take care of peace talks," according to an Associated Press report.
Meanwhile, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said Tuesday that some Taliban members have made "overtures" to NATO forces and the Kabul government about ending their insurgency.
But those overtures seemed rendered moot by a suicide bomb attack that killed a provincial official and five others in Ghazni province in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday. Deputy Gov. Khazim Allahyar was killed when one of two vehicles in a convoy carrying him was rammed by a bomber operating a motorized rickshaw laden with explosives.
Mr. Allahyar's son, nephew, a bodyguard and two civilians were also killed, and eight other people were seriously injured.
On a day when his peace council was to have been the focus of the news, Mr. Karzai was brought to tears in decrying the violence and expressed the fear that young Afghans will eventually seek to flee their country to escape the mayhem.
The council also includes Mohammed Mohaqiq, who fought with the Taliban, and former Presidents Sibghatullah Mojadeddi and Burhanuddin Rabbani. Mr. Mohaqiq and Mr. Rabbani have been implicated in war crimes by several Afghan and international human rights groups.
Ethnic minorities and women's groups have opposed negotiations with the Taliban, saying they worry that such efforts come at the cost of their rights. They say that allowing elements of the Taliban back into government will lead to a pre-Sept. 11 Afghanistan that was ruled by Islamic hard-liners.
Esther Hyneman, a member of the board of directors of Women for Afghan Women, said the Taliban will not respect women's rights.
"Nothing in their history suggests that we can trust them," Ms. Hyneman said. "Their abasement of women is not a religious matter. It is a strategy to gain control of Afghanistan — i.e., a way of controlling 50 percent of the population. As such, it will continue unabated and get worse if they gain control of the country, which we believe is their goal."
Ms. Reid described the Tuesday announcement of peace council members as a "disappointing outcome" for Afghan women and girls.
"Women are once again being shortchanged. The government had promised them more robust representation than this," she said.
Wahid Monawar, a former chief of staff of the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the founder of the Neo-Conservative Party of Afghanistan, said Mr. Karzai needs to include Afghanistan's ethnic minorities in the council and win the support of the Afghan people for his negotiation plan.
The Afghan government has laid down conditions for negotiations with the Taliban.
Mr. Karzai said he would talk only with Taliban members who renounce violence, cut ties to al Qaeda and embrace the Afghan Constitution. This is a position that has been endorsed by the Obama administration.
But the Taliban members said they have no interest in negotiating before coalition forces leave Afghanistan.
Mr. Monawar said the "Karzai-bashing" in the West has emboldened the Taliban not to talk with the Afghan leader.
"They feel, 'Why should I talk to this guy if you don't believe in the guy?'" he said.
Nonetheless, Gen. Petraeus said, some Taliban fighters are looking to quit the fight.
"There have already been 20 or so overtures from small groups around the country," he told Agence France-Presse, referring to a program aimed at reintegrating midlevel Taliban commanders and grass-roots fighters back into Afghan society.
A Taliban spokesman dismissed Gen. Petraeus' comments as "baseless."
In related developments, Pakistani officials said a senior al Qaeda leader in charge of operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sheik Fateh, was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Saturday.
Mr. Fateh was reportedly killed in Pakistan's North Waziristan province along the Afghan border.
The U.S. has increased drone attacks in the region over the past month in a bid to eliminate al Qaeda and Taliban leaders who are thought to be hiding in the lawless tribal belt along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
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