KABUL // The Afghan president Hamid Karzai called on the Taliban and other extremist groups to lay down their weapons today and participate in rebuilding the battered country. The appeal was made in a message marking the major Muslim holiday of Eid and forms part of his reconciliation efforts in his second term in office. Mr Karzai's call came two days after the reclusive Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, issued a statement ruling out talks with the president and calling on Afghans to break off relations with his "stooge" administration.
The hard-line militia has long refused to negotiate with Mr Karzai's government or join what it considers a puppet administration. "From the Taliban, from Hezb-e-Islami and all our other brothers who stand armed against their country, I hope that for the peace, stability and development of their country, they come back to their homeland, their families," Mr Karzai said. Hezb-e-Islami is a militant faction led by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Asked about Mr Omar's message, which was posted on a website used by the Taliban, Mr Karzai said he would not stop appealing to the group to help rebuild the country.
"We will continue to invite them until peace and stability come to this country. And this is an initiative of the Afghan people, and I wish Mullah Muhammad Omar ... and all other Taliban recognise this necessity and join with us and participate in the reconstruction of their country," Mr Karzai said. The president also reiterated a call to his main rival during the fraud-marred presidential election, Abdullah Abdullah, to join in helping the country - although he stopped short of inviting him into the government.
Mr Abdullah, who served for several years as foreign minister in Mr Karzai's government, pulled out of an election run-off scheduled for earlier this month, saying it was impossible to guarantee a free and fair vote. "I hope that all the candidates, Dr Abdullah and all our other brothers, come and join hands in building their country ... to be able to move our country to such a stage where Afghanistan will be able to stand on its own feet," Mr Karzai said.
His appeal echoed comments in his inauguration speech last week, when he also reached out to Mr Abdullah. But speaking after the inauguration speech, Mr Abdullah said Mr Karzai's administration had created many problems for the country. "His record and policies I consider as the basic and fundamental reason for the failures of the international community and Afghanistan together," Mr Abdullah said.
"So for me it's those agendas for change which are important rather than my having posts in the Cabinet, that has never been my agenda." * AP