KABUL: A major meeting between the Afghan Taliban and the government of Afghanistan was cancelled on Friday, after disagreements with the host nation, Qatar.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had announced the names of a 250-strong delegation to travel to Doha on Tuesday, to hold discussions with the militant group over ending the country’s 17-year conflict.
The trip was delayed on Thursday, however, before Ghani’s office declared it was off in a statement on Friday morning, following suggestions the Qatari government had rejected a number of members of the delegation at the last minute. An alternative list of delegates suggested by Doha “was not acceptable to the Afghan government,” leading it to pull out of the talks.
“The Qatari government sent a new list which was not balanced in terms of involvement of the people of Afghanistan … it was a disrespect to the national will of the Afghan people,” the statement said.
“Politicians meeting with President Ghani agreed that the act by the Qatari government is not acceptable, and the Doha conference was cancelled.”
The meeting would have been the first of its kind since the Taliban was ousted from power by a US-led coalition in 2001, and came amid pressure from Washington to find a diplomatic solution to hostilities. US President Donald Trump’s administration has ramped up tension in recent months by beginning the process of withdrawing troops from the country.
Talks in Qatar were initially proposed following repeated pushes by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, for an intra-Afghan meeting including Ghani’s government.
A number of closed-door talks between the Taliban and Khalilzad had previously been held in Doha, but representatives of Ghani’s government, at the request of the militants, were not invited.
“I’m disappointed Qatar’s intra-Afghan initiative has been delayed,” Khalilzad said on Twitter. “I urge all sides to seize the moment and put things back on track by agreeing to a participant list that speaks for all Afghans.”
The Taliban responded to the news in a statement, saying that it remained committed to peace talks in Doha, blaming Kabul for the failure of the meeting.
“The (Taliban) negotiation team … worked day and night, exercised self-restraint and showed flexibility to the highest level, but since the Kabul administration created obstacles to this effort, responsibility falls upon their shoulders,” the statement said.