Afghan Government Sets Up Peace Council

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has appointed members of a "peace council," tasked with seeking a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. The council includes a number of well-known warlords.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

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And I'm Melissa Block.

In Afghanistan today, President Hamid Karzai made an unusual public appearance at a Kabul school. The occasion was International Literacy Day. Karzai used the event to urge negotiations with Taliban insurgents. And as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports, the president got so emotional that he broke down and wept.

QUIL LAWRENCE: President Karzai is known for getting a bit sentimental in his public speeches. Today, he was speaking about the importance of education and how many Afghans must go abroad for quality schools. He reflected on his own son, Mirwais, saying he didn't want the boy to be an exile, like his father was for decades.

President HAMID KARZAI (Afghanistan): (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of applause)

LAWRENCE: The crowd broke into applause as Karzai's voice cracked, and he continued, saying that he wants his son to remain in Afghanistan to serve his country. Some in the crowd, men and women, wept along with Karzai. But even some of them acknowledged mixed feelings about the president, who's been in office for eight years now, leading a government considered every year more corrupt through an ever more deadly war.

Karzai went on, appealing to the Taliban to talk peace and to Afghans to take charge of their situation.

Pres. KARZAI: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Come to your senses, Karzai told the crowd.

Later in the day, Karzai did something more practical toward making peace: he named 68 members of a peace council, who will be entrusted with negotiating with Taliban leaders. But some other tears may have been shed at the names. The council includes many warlords and officials suspected of serious corruption. Almost everyone, Afghan and international, agrees that a negotiated solution is the only path out of the Afghan conflict.

Late today, the president's spokesman said some discussions with the Taliban are on going, but no major breakthrough has been made.

Quil Lawrence, NPR news, Kabul.

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