President Hamid Karzai's granting of a top military job to an ex-militia chief who has been accused of human rights abuses was a blow to justice and efforts to start peace talks with the Taliban, according to an Afghan rights watchdog.
Mr Karzai said on Monday that renewed efforts to seek reconciliation with the Taliban had the backing of allies including the United States and Europe. General David Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command, held out the possibility of talks with the Taliban leadership to end a war now into its ninth year.
Officials confirmed the reappointment of General Abdul Rashid Dostum as chief of staff to the commander-in-chief, Mr Karzai. A security source said the title gave General Dostum a largely ceremonial role in charge of the armed forces behind Mr Karzai, but rights activists were sceptical.
"It is a step ahead in Karzai's old policy of legitimising prominent warlords and maintaining a state of criminal impunity for them," Ajmal Samadi, director of Afghanistan Rights Monitor, a non-governmental group funded by domestic rights campaigners, said. "Afghanistan can't achieve viable peace, stability and prosperity under a government with no commitment to justice."
Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who on Thursday will host a conference in London aimed at improving governance in Afghanistan and promoting reintegration of Taliban insurgents, said he would raise the Dostum issue with Mr Karzai.
"What's obviously essential is that the loyalty of the Afghan people to their own government is helped ... that's something that needs to be prosecuted with real drive and determination by all ministers in government," Mr Miliband said.