Kabul: Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday called on Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar to stop fighting and join peace talks aimed at ending the long war in Afghanistan.
"We hope Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhund joins the peace process, gives up fratricide, gives up bombings and blasts, stops causing casualties to Afghanistan`s children, women and men," he said, using Omar`s religious title.
Karzai was speaking at the presidential palace at a traditional post-prayers gathering of government ministers and officials to mark the first day of the Eid holiday that follows the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
Karzai last week announced that he had set up a council to pursue peace talks with the Taliban, who have been waging an insurgency in Afghanistan for almost nine years.
The formation of the High Peace Council was "a significant step towards peace talks," Karzai`s office said at the time.
The move was one of the most significant steps Karzai has taken in his oft-stated efforts to open a dialogue with the Taliban leadership aimed at speeding an end to the long war.
Karzai`s plan to create the High Peace Council was approved in June at a "peace jirga" in Kabul attended by community, tribal, religious and political leaders from across the country.
The council was mooted as a negotiating body, to be made up of around 50 representatives of a broad section of Afghan society, to talk peace with the Taliban.
Officials have said it would include former members of the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami, a minor but vicious militant group led by former prime minister and mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Hekmatyar`s Hizb-i-Islami is currently in a tenuous alliance with the Taliban, although both sides remain suspicious of each other.
Hekmatyar`s power has waned over the years and he commands far fewer fighters than the Taliban. Nevertheless, the group is active across part of Afghanistan`s northern and eastern provinces.
The Taliban have repeatedly spurned peace overtures, deriding Karzai`s government as a puppet of the United States and saying they will not talk peace until all foreign forces have left the country.
The United States and NATO have 150,000 troops in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban-led insurgency, most of them in the southern hotspots of Helmand and Kandahar provinces.