Afghanistan's vice-president has reached out to militants at Nowruz New Year celebrations in Mazar-i-Sharif, declaring that, with their input, a coming national conference will lay the foundations for peace.
Vice-President Mohammed Qasim Fahim, who fought Soviet forces in the 1980s and commanded forces that overthrew the Taliban regime in 2001, called on resistance forces to participate in a jirga, or assembly, planned for late April or early May.
Mr Fahim pledged that President Hamid Karzai's government "will try to find a peaceful life for those Afghans who are unhappy," a euphemism for militants.
"God willing, by the help of the people, we will have a successful, historic jirga," he said, adding: "My dear countrymen, my hope is that this year will be the year of peaceful stability."
During his speech to the crowd, provincial Governor Atta Mohammad Noor also expressed support for reconciliation and stressed the need for input from Afghans across all ethnic factions and regions, especially those who have "been damaged by fighting from both sides."
Mr Fahim, who has been critical in the past of any deals with Taliban militants, is an ethnic Tajik and former defence minister, while Mr Karzai and the Taliban leadership are ethnic Pashtuns.
The jirga, an Afghan institution in which community leaders meet to take decisions by consensus, is expected to formulate a national strategy for reconciliation talks with the Taliban and their allies.
A spokesman for the powerful Hizb-i-Islam militant group led by former PM Gulbuddin Hekmatyar confirmed yesterday that his party had sent a three-member delegation to Kabul to talk peace.