KABUL Afghan President Hamid Karzai's High Peace Council, which aims to broker talks with the Taliban, is flawed by the violent past of some of its members and does not properly represent Afghan society, civic leaders said on Monday.
The council was approved at a traditional peace jirga, or tribal gathering, this spring as a way to seek a negotiated end to the war, which is at its bloodiest since the Taliban were overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
But when Karzai last week named members of the council there were many unfamiliar names on the list, and Afghan activists and rights groups said the more famous members are unlikely to be able, or willing to forge real peace.
Members include former Taliban fighters and warlords, former presidents and regional politicians.
Missing are representatives from civil society, the business community, development and medical experts, right groups, the senior ranks of the opposition and women's activists.
"The people who are in this list were once opposed to each other and were actually killing each other," Aziz Rafiee, director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum said at a press conference accompanied by other civil and women's rights groups.
"Today they are on conflicting sides as well," he added.
Two women's groups joined Rafiee in rejecting the council's makeup and demanded any talks with the hard-line Taliban guarantee woman's rights to education, employment and movement regained after the end of their rule.
"Some of the people of the list have more experience in war than in peace making," Suraya Parleeka, director of the All Afghan Women Union, an umbrella group of women's organizations.
"This type of peace council will be a waste of time."
Criticism from the civic groups underscores the challenge Karzai faces in winning widespread support for his push to negotiate an end to the conflict.
Despite resentment of foreign troops, there are still many Afghans who fear the conditions that might be imposed by hardline insurgent groups, and worry about the durability of deals with commanders who have reneged on past agreements.
The Taliban say they will not talk about peace until all foreign troops have left Afghanistan.
U.S. President Barack Obama plans to start bringing troops back from mid 2011 and the Afghan government says it wants to take over security by 2014.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison and Myra MacDonald)