Karzai makes emotional appeal for unity

KABUL, Afghanistan — Choking back tears and showing signs of stress, Afghan President Hamid Karzai made an emotional appeal for unity Tuesday before unveiling a peacemaking commission that includes longtime Taliban rivals, former warlords and suspected drug barons.

Human rights activists immediately denounced the 70-member group, which also includes a handful of former Taliban officials, as unreliable negotiators.

"Many of these men are unlikely peacemakers," said Rachel Reid, an analyst for Human Rights Watch. "There are too many names here that Afghans will associate with war crimes, warlordism and corruption."

Karzai's new peace push comes as the U.S.-led international military coalition is stepping up its campaign to cripple the Taliban insurgency in its southern Afghanistan strongholds.

In recent weeks, Karzai has been buffeted by problems and under growing strains.

The stress was evident Tuesday when Karzai broke down as he discussed the future for his 4-year-old son, Mirwais, during a nationally televised address meant to promote literacy.

In his speech, Karzai said he was afraid that his son would be forced to live in exile, as he was forced to do during the Taliban era.

"I don't want Mirwais to flee the country," Karzai said as his voice cracked and he struggled to maintain his composure. "I want Mirwais to be an Afghan.

"I am so afraid that, God forbid, Mirwais will choose to become a foreigner and leave the country," Karzai said as his eyes watered.

"Wake up and see what's happening in our country," Karzai appealed to the audience.

Karzai also lamented the slaying of a provincial official.

The deputy governor of southeastern Ghazni province, Khazim Allayar, was killed along with his son, a nephew and a bodyguard early Tuesday morning in the provincial capital when a suicide bomber rammed a rickshaw into the group's vehicle, according to provincial spokesman Ismail Jahangir.

"This was an act of the Taliban," Jahangir said.