Afghan president calls on Taliban to stop fighting

AFP – President Hamid Karzai reiterated his calls for Taliban fighters to put down their arms at a military parade Saturday that showed off Afghanistan’s newly-acquired weaponry and growing army.

The president and his cabinet were among scores of dignitaries at a march-past of soldiers and equipment, much of it given by Afghanistan’s international allies, to mark the 15th anniversary of the communist regime’s defeat.

“Once again, we invite those who are deceived by aliens (foreigners) and are standing against their nation, to stop insurgence and violence and come and continue peaceful life,” Karzai said in an address.

The president has often said Taliban fighters are being used by extremist Islamist elements in foreign countries, notably Pakistan.

He has previously offered an olive branch to Taliban supporters “whose hands are not stained in blood” — which would exclude the movement’s leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Gulbudin Hekmatyar, head of a ruthless Islamist faction.

Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said there had not been enough awareness of the equipment and “foreign support” given to the rebels in the four years that followed the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

This had allowed the insurgency to pick up speed, he said.

Saturday’s anniversary was a display of Afghanistan’s growing military and a show of power to Taliban insurgents, who are stepping up their attacks.

Afghanistan’s army, which reached about 200,000 in the late 1980s, was destroyed in the 1992-1996 civil war between the factions that drove out the Soviet invaders and ended communism.

The war killed around 50,000 people in Kabul alone and left the city in ruins. It ended with the Taliban takeover in 1996.

The Taliban and their Al-Qaeda allies were driven from power in a US-led invasion in 2001, resulting in a flood of international troops and aid in a bid to prevent the country from sliding back into the chaos that incubated extremism.

Much of the focus is on rebuilding the Afghan army.

Washington announced last year it wanted to spend 8.6 billion dollars on training and equipping the Afghan security forces over the next two years.

In February it handed over more than 200 Humvee vehicles and more than 12,000 light weapons in what was described as the “tip of the iceberg” of the planned commitment.

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