Afghanistan’s chief executive Abdullah Abdullah welcomed Kabul’s decision on Sunday to send a delegation to meet with the Taliban, saying he hoped they would present a “unified position” for the Afghan people.
In an ongoing push to find a way out of the country’s 17-year-old war, Kabul had earlier announced it would send representatives to “exchange views” with Taliban officials at fresh talks, due to take place in the Qatari capital Doha later this month.
U.S. and Taliban officials have held several rounds of talks but the militant group has so far refused to talk directly to the Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime. “We need to have governmental and nongovernmental politicians in one platform, and talk future peace and reconciliation,” Abdullah told AFP on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Jordan. “The aim of [the delegation] is to present a unified position of [the] people of Afghanistan,” he added.
Mohammad Omar Daudzai, President Ashraf Ghani’s envoy for peace, said the delegation would serve only to swap views with the Taliban, and its members would not necessarily be the same as a formal negotiating team.
Officials will meet Wednesday in Kabul to finalize delegates, and to decide who might comprise an official negotiating team.
In a statement, the Taliban said the upcoming Doha talks would clarify participants’ “views and policies and sharing their stance.”
“The said conference is not a negotiations summit or meeting,” the Islamist extremist group said.
The Taliban and Afghan opposition groups held a similar meeting in Moscow in February. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad spent last week in Afghanistan as part of an ongoing push for a peace deal. His visit came against the backdrop of strains between Washington and Ghani’s administration, which has complained bitterly of being sidelined in peace talks.
Khalilzad has repeatedly called on Ghani to form a strong negotiating team to reach a deal before the country’s delayed presidential elections, now slated for September.
On Friday, during a side trip Khalilzad made to Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan said he had some “brotherly advice” for Afghanistan, suggesting an interim government in Kabul to help smooth the talks process. It was not the first time Khan had made such a suggestion. Kabul was again furious, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned a Pakistani diplomat to explain the remarks.
The notion of an interim government to tide things over between the end of Ghani’s term in May and an election has sparked controversy in Afghanistan, and there is as yet no clarity as to what will happen.
An “interim government for the sake just of interim government, I am not for it, [it] will not solve anything,” Abdullah said. “An interim arrangement as a result of the package for peace that is agreed upon between both sides—why not?”
Khalilzad left Afghanistan on Sunday following what the U.S. embassy called “productive” talks. “Khalilzad was pleased to see the Afghans with whom he met, inside and outside government, coming together to put peace first,” the embassy said in statement.