KABUL (AFP) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai extended an olive branch Sunday to Taliban militants trying to overthrow his Western-backed government as he marked the start of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival.
Karzai, currently beleaguered by fraud accusations following the August 20 election, also extended condolences to the families of civilian victims of a massive suicide attack that killed six Italian soldiers on Thursday.
“On this auspicious day once again I ask all those Afghan brothers who are unhappy or are in others’ hands to stop fighting, destroying their own land and killing their own people,” he said.
“They must come to their houses and live in peace in their own country,” he said, speaking to reporters at the presidential palace in Kabul.
Karzai has said, should he win another five years in the country’s top job, he will launch peace talks with the leaders of the Taliban insurgency that has intensified in recent months to deadly effect.
His comments marking the end of the Ramadan month of fasting and the start of the three-day Eid holiday followed a statement by Taliban leader Mullah Omar warning foreign troops of imminent and unequivocal defeat.
The US and NATO have more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, attempting to wipe out the Taliban, though the rebels have changed tactics in recent months to meet a renewed battle strategy from the foreign and Afghan forces.
Use of remote-controlled bombs has seen 2009 become the worst for foreign forces in the eight years of the war, with more than 350 deaths so far.
US President Barack Obama is considering military requests for more troops in Afghanistan, as public support for the war plunges in the US and Britain.
Mullah Omar, regarded as the Taliban’s “supreme commander” and believed to be in Pakistan, said in his Eid statement on Saturday: “The more the enemy resorts to increasing forces, the more they will face an unequivocal defeat in Afghanistan.”
He lambasted Karzai’s government as a “stooge” of the international community and said the election was “fraught with fraud and lies”.
Karzai is ahead in preliminary results, with almost 55 percent of the vote, though hundreds of thousands of ballots may be recounted and could force him into a run-off against his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, on 27.8 percent.