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March 28, 2020

Taliban say no to Afghan negotiators


Sat, Mar 28, 2020

KABUL: The Taliban on Saturday rejected an Afghan government negotiation team set up to hold talks with the insurgent group in a bid to end the country's 18-year-old conflict.

After months of delays, the government on Friday announced a 21-member team — including five women — to take part in the upcoming talks, a crucial step in bringing the warring parties to the table and getting a floundering, US-led peace process back on track.

But the Taliban in a statement said the government had failed to put forward an "inclusive" team.

"We shall only sit for talks with a negotiation team that conforms with our agreements and is constituted in accordance with the laid out principles," the statement said.

"In order to reach true and lasting peace, the aforementioned team must be agreed upon by all effective Afghan sides," it said, adding that the majority of those involved in the "intra-Afghan" talks had rejected the team, without specifying which parties.

Under a deal signed by the US and the Taliban last month, the insurgents agreed to resume talks with the Afghan government and discuss a possible ceasefire.

In return, the US and foreign partner forces agreed to withdraw from Afghanistan over the next 14 months.

The Taliban had previously refused to meet with the administration of President Ashraf Ghani, calling him an American stooge.

The Kabul government said the negotiating team would be led by former intelligence chief Masoom Stanekzai and include Batur Dostum, whose father Abdul Rashid Dostum — a notorious former warlord — is accused of human rights violations.

In a statement, Afghanistan's peace ministry had said Ghani "wishes the delegation success and calls on them to consider, at all stages of negotiations, the best interest of the country, the shared values of the Afghan people, and the principle stand of the country for a united Afghanistan".

It is not clear when or where the "intra-Afghan" talks would start, but the Taliban has not heeded calls for a ceasefire, instead intensifying their attacks across the country.

On Friday, the militants attacked several districts of northeastern Badakhan province, capturing three districts and killing at least 10 Afghan security forces, an official said.

Several Taliban fighters were also killed when reinforcements were sent to the area, the defence ministry said.


Earlier, the United States, which has slashed aid to the Afghan government over its failure to end infighting, had hailed the progress in naming an "inclusive" negotiating team.

The delegation "reflects the true tapestry of the nation and the instrumental role of women," said Zalmay Khalilzad, the chief US negotiator.

"This consensus is a meaningful step that moves the parties significantly closer to intra-Afghan negotiations," he wrote on Twitter.

Diverse negotiating team

Among the five women delegates was Habiba Sarabi, deputy leader of the government's High Peace Council. Sarabi is a Hazara, the predominantly Shia ethnic group that the Taliban have repeatedly targeted.

Another female delegate was Fawzia Koofi, an ethnic Tajik and a women's rights activist who has been a vocal Taliban critic.

During their reign across much of Afghanistan from 1996-2001, the Taliban forced women to stay at home, banned female education and frequently executed women on flimsy allegations of adultery.