Mazar-i-Sharif: In a speech marking the Afghan New Year, Vice President Abdul Karim Khalili on Monday called on militants to lay down their weapons because the nation will never return to the days of hardline Taliban rule.
"We are going toward the light. We are never going back to the dark," Khalili said at a historic blue-tiled mosque in the center of Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan.
Efforts to reconcile with Taliban insurgents have not yet gained traction and violence continues across the nation.
NATO reported that a coalition service member died on Sunday in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan. No details or the service member`s nationality were released. The death raised to 88 the number of international troops killed so far this year.
Last year was the deadliest of the nearly decade-old war for coalition forces, with 701 killed, including 492 Americans.
Khalili, one of two Vice Presidents in Afghanistan, also noted that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was expected to deliver a speech on Tuesday, outlining the first sites where Afghan security forces will begin taking the lead for securing and defending their homeland.
"We are going to start a new chapter," Khalili told hundreds who flocked to the shrine to celebrate the new year. "The opposition should join the peace process to save the country."
Karzai is expected to announce that Afghan forces will soon replace NATO-led troops in charge of security at six sites across Afghanistan — the first step in a transition that he hopes will leave his troops in control across the nation by the end of 2014.
The provincial capitals of Mazar-i-Sharif, Lashkar Gah in the volatile southern Afghanistan and Herat in the west are slated for the first phase of transition from NATO-led forces to Afghan soldiers and police, a Western official told a news agency earlier this month. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Karzai was to formally announce the sites in his speech.
In addition, all of Bamiyan and Panshir provinces, which have seen little to no fighting, and Kabul province, except for the restive Surobi district, are on the transition list, according to the official. Afghan security forces earlier took charge of security in the capital, Kabul.