AFGHANISTAN'S president Hamid Karzai wept in public yesterday during an emotional appeal for peace in which he expressed fears for his three-year-old son's future, growing up amid an unending Afghan war.
Tears rolled down his cheeks as he appealed to Afghans to stop killing Afghans, in a speech which marked International Literacy Day at a high school in Kabul adjacent to his heavily guarded presidential palace.
Mr Karzai last week rejected claims that he suffers from manic depression. A new book by Bob Woodward, the journalist who brought down President Richard Nixon, quoted the US ambassador in Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, as saying, "He's on his meds. He's off his meds,".
The palace said the quote was "highly inflammatory".
The president's performance came as General David Petraeus, the commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, said senior Taliban insurgents had "reached out" to the government to broker peace, while Mr Kazai finally revealed a list of 68 people on his High Peace Council charged with negotiating a settlement. Critics said his appointments included warlords, drug smugglers and political stooges.
Officials at the Amani High School were also shown weeping as Mr Karzai's speech was broadcast live across Afghanistan.
He said: "I do not want Mirwais, my son, to be a foreigner, I do not want this.
"I want Mirwais to be Afghan. I want him to go to school here, I swear to God I'm worried, oh people, I'm worried. God forbid Mirwais should be forced to leave Afghanistan,"
Mirwais, Mr Karzai's only child, was born on 25 January, 2007, some 11 years after he married his wife, Zeenat, in Pakistan. They were both in exile there during the Soviet occupation and later during the Taleban's rule. Mrs Karzai and Mirwais are rarely seen outside the palace, although palace officials describe Mr Karzai as a devoted and doting father.
"Compatriots! Do not destroy your land for other's interests. Do not kill your people for other's interests, do not close down schools for other's interests," he said yesterday.
"Taliban and others, if they consider themselves from this country, and consider themselves Muslims and Afghans, must know every bullet they fire is a bullet at the heart of this land and at the interest of enemies of this land."
Diplomats claim Mr Karzai is growing increasingly concerned with his legacy as both a statesman and a father as his second and final term in office ebbs away with few signs of progress in the nine-year war.
Dr Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister turned opposition presidential candidate, has repeatedly voiced fears over Mr Karzai's state of mind. "As a medical doctor I am concerned about his health," he said."When he cried to the Taleban he had tears in his eyes," he added, referring to a speech earlier this year where the president threatened to join the insurgency. "It was seen as extreme weakness and the Taleban took it as such. Sometimes he forgets he is the leader of a country."
Dr Abdullah and Afghanistan's former spymaster, Amrullah Saleh, have both expressed deep concern about the president's efforts to broker peace with the insurgents, while human rights groups fear the progress since 2001 will be rolled back in the rush to reach a settlement with hardline insurgents
Names on the High Peace Council list included the warlord Ismail Khan, a former governor of Helmand province, who was fired after nine tonnes of opium were discovered in his house, and Mr Karzai's 2009 election campaign manager.
"Many of these men are unlikely peacemakers", said Rachel Reid from Human Rights Watch. "There are too many names here that Afghans will associate with war crimes, warlordism and corruption."
A spokesman for the Taleban, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the men were mostly national traitors who "have drunk the blood of Afghan people".