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    Rabbani chosen as high peace council chairman

    KABUL(PAN): Former president Borhanuddin Rabbani was on Sunday chosen to lead the newly-created High Council for Peace tasked with starting negotiations with the Taliban and other insurgent groups to bring a lasting peace to the country.

    The 68-member council selected Rabbani as its chairman during its second meeting at the Presidential Palace.

    President Hamid Karzai, hailing the selection of Rabbani a good choice, said his name had been recommended by the Senate chairman Sibghatullah Mujaddidi.

    Mujaddidi was earlier expected to be chosen as the council's chairman, but he suggested Rabbani for the position.

    Karzai officially declared Rabbani as chairman of the council, hoping the council would succeed in bringing a lasting peace to the country.

    Once leader of a powerful mujahideen party during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Rabbani thanked Karzai for his trust on him as head of the key body.

    Rabbani, who served as president in the 1990s, considered the council leadership a huge responsibility. He promised to work tirelessly for bringing peace and stability to the country. Peace and stability was a long-lasting demand of Afghans, he added.

    In early June, Hamid Karzai won approval from a tribal gathering attended by as many as 1,200 elders and influential people to form a High Peace Council to start seeking a negotiated end to the conflict.

    The jirga had asked the government and the international community to pave the way for talks with all disgruntled individuals and groups. It demanded the formation of a peace council to arrange negotiations.

    On July 20, Karzai presented his reconciliation programme to representatives of 70 countries and international organisations at the International Kabul Conference. The proposal received overwhelming support.

    The High Peace Council is dominated by former jihadi leaders, ex-Taliban officials, tribal elders and government officials.

    Karzai said the council would act independently, saying the government would not interfere in its efforts at starting the talks.

    In a statement issued by Karzai's press office, Rabbani was quoted as telling the council members after winning the seat that now there was a need for Afghans to give hand to each other for consolidation of a lasting peace in Afghanistan.

    For opening the way for talks with the Taliban, Rabbani's first step will be establishing a working mechanism acceptable to other members of the Council.

    With the war entering its 10th year, the insurgency is at its bloodiest since 2001, despite the presence of 150,000 foreign troops.

    Karzai had repeatedly said he wanted Taliban leaders to renounce violence and links with al Qaeda, accept the constitution and surrender their arms.

    With insurgents gaining strength across the country, observers believe Karzai's conditions imply a surrender for insurgents.

    frm/ma