Afghan President Hamid Karzai has announced the formation of a 70-member negotiation council that will push for peace with the Taliban and allied insurgent groups who are battling Afghan and international forces for control of the county.
At a press conference, presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said the announcement represented a significant step towards peace and reconciliation.
"This council is established to support the reconciliation process and to bring back our citizens to the political process so that permanent peace is established. It will facilitate those Afghans who want to give up violence and want to stop working against Afghanistan's national interest," he said.
"The high peace council formally launched the Afghan president's program to make peace with the insurgents, to reconcile them, and to eventually reintegrate them into the society."
The list includes prominent Afghans from a broad spectrum of Afghan society, former presidents among them.
Prominent leaders of the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s are also named, including Sibghatullah Mojaddedi and Burhanduddin Rabbani. There are also tribal elders, and former members of the Taliban and Hezb-e Islami, or Islamic Party, whose active members constitute the bulk of insurgency today. A total of eight women have been named to the council.
The peace council was established on the recommendation of the national peace assembly that was convened last June. Its 1,600 delegates passed unanimous resolutions calling on Kabul to take concrete steps to reach out to the armed opposition.
Earlier today Karzai renewed his call for the Taliban to surrender their weapons. "I again call on the Taliban to not destroy your country for the sake of others' interest. Do not kill your people for the interest of the others and do not close your school for the interest of the others," he said.
In a speech to high school students and teachers in Kabul that was televised nationally, Karzai warned that Afghans could lose their identity if the fighting continued.
"I swear to Allah that I have agony, I have fear. Oh people! God forbid [my son] Mirwais would be forced to go abroad and become a foreigner," Karzai said.
Also today, General Petraeus -- who leads the more than 150,000 NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan -- told the wire service Agence France Press (AFP) that many small Afghan insurgent groups have already made "overtures" to NATO forces about laying down their arms.
But a purported Taliban spokesman flatly denied Petraeus's claim. Zabiullah Mujahid told AFP, "We want full and unconditional withdrawal of all invading forces from our country."
compiled from agency reports