KABUL, Afghanistan — In a further step toward reconciling with insurgents, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Saturday he will soon name the members of a council tasked with pursuing peace talks with rebels willing to break with al-Qaida and recognize the government in Kabul.
Karzai's announcement was given added poignancy by comments from the outgoing deputy commander of NATO forces in the country that commanders promised too much when they predicted quick success taking the key Taliban-held town of Marjah last winter.
While British Lt. Gen. Nick Parker now sees signs of a turnaround in the turbulent area, he said the military will be more restrained in forecasting success in the future.
The formation of the High Peace Council was approved in June at a national peace conference in Kabul and Karzai's statement that its membership would be announced next week marks a "significant step toward peace talks," according to a statement issued by Karzai's office.
It said members will include former Taliban, jihadi leaders, leading figures in Afghan society, and women, but gave no other details. They will be prepared to negotiate with insurgents who renounce violence, honor the Afghan constitution, and sever ties with terrorist networks.
The Taliban have so far rejected peace talks while foreign troops remain in the country. Talks held in Kabul and the Maldives with an insurgent group led by ex-Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar produced no breakthrough.
Still, Karzai hopes the reconciliation process will help render a split in the Taliban between its hardcore members — who have shown no appetite for compromise — and those willing to consider abandoning the insurgency.
Though some observers have expressed concern about cutting any sort of deal with insurgents, foreign governments working to stabilize the Afghan government and economy have welcomed the move, especially given U.S. plans to begin withdrawing some of its forces next July.
"We warmly welcome today's announcement," the British Foreign Office said of Karzai's move. "We will not bring about a more secure Afghanistan by military means alone.... We have always said that a political process is needed to bring the conflict in Afghanistan to an end."