Taliban say will not negotiate with team announced by Afghan government

Published March 28, 2020
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani arrives to his inauguration as president, in Kabul, Afghanistan on March 9. — Reuters
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani arrives to his inauguration as president, in Kabul, Afghanistan on March 9. — Reuters

The Taliban refused to negotiate with the team announced by the Afghan government, the militant group’s spokesman said on Saturday, in a potential setback to the next steps of the US brokered peace process.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group would not negotiate with the team as it was not selected in a way that included “all Afghan factions”.

The Afghan government announced a team late on Thursday, which was later praised as “inclusive” by US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

The United States signed a troop withdrawal deal with the Taliban in February, but progress on moving to negotiations between the militant group and the Afghan government has been delayed by a feud between Afghan politicians and disagreement between the Taliban and the government over the release of prisoners and a possible ceasefire as preconditions for talks.

Mujahid said the fact the team was announced by the Afghan government “violated” its agreement with the United States and that not all sides had agreed to the team.

“In order to reach true and lasting peace, the aforementioned team must be agreed upon by all effective Afghan sides so that it can represent all sides,” he said.

Najia Anwari, spokeswoman for the Afghan ministry of peace affairs, said in response: “This team was made after wide consultation with different layers of the Afghan society.”

President Ashraf Ghani’s political rival Abdullah Abdullah has not yet confirmed whether he will support the delegation, a move diplomats say would be important given his camp’s strong influence in the country’s north and west.

His spokesman on Friday declined to confirm or deny whether he would support the team.

Abdullah’s spokesman and the US Embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.

Both men claim to be Afghanistan’s rightful leader after disputed September elections.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to mediate between the two men to create an “inclusive” government during a day-long visit to Kabul on Monday, and announced a $1 billion cut in US aid to Afghanistan, which he said could be reversed.

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