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Former prez heads peace council

world Updated: Oct 10, 2010 23:29 IST

Afghanistan's former president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who has been implicated in war crimes, was on Sunday as the chairman of a new peace council set up to broker an end to the war with the Taliban.

The High Peace Council is President Hamid Karzai's brainchild, intended to open a dialogue with insurgents who have been trying to bring down his government since the US-led invasion overthrew their regime in late 2001.

The 68-member council, hand-picked by Karzai, was set up following a nationwide conference in June and was inaugurated on October 7 amid mounting reports of secret peace talks with Taliban leaders and key insurgent groups.

Rabbani, who was president during Afghanistan's chaotic 1992-1996 civil war, was elected to chair the council at its second session today in what Karzai's office described as a "unanimous" vote.

Delivering his acceptance speech, Rabbani said he was "confident" that peace was possible, according to a statement from the palace.

"I hope we are able to take major steps in bringing peace and fulfil our duties with tireless effort and help from God," he was quoted as saying.

According to Human Rights Watch, Rabbani is among prominent Afghans implicated in war crimes during the brutal fighting that killed or displaced hundreds of thousands of Afghans in the early 1990s.

With the current war now into a 10th year, record numbers of Western troops and Afghan civilians are dying and the Taliban is more powerful than at any time since its ouster. The government has increasingly been discredited by graft.

Western militaries have accelerated efforts to train Afghan troops, while Karzai has promised that Afghanistan will take responsibility for security by 2014 and has put negotiations with the Taliban at the top of his agenda.

The Taliban has said publicly it will not enter dialogue with the government until all 152,000 foreign troops based in the country leave.

Analysts also warn that the council is so stacked with warlords and militia leaders it could be set up for failure, particularly when many in Afghanistan accuse Pakistani intelligence of supporting the Taliban.

There is also a fear among Afghans, particularly the urban elite who have prospered in the last nine years, that any power-sharing with the Taliban could bury some new-found freedoms, particularly for women.