Peace hopes suffer as Afghan-Taliban talks go off track

Doha, April 19 

Hopes for a breakthrough in a push to end Afghanistan’s gruelling conflict suffered a major setback on Friday after a key summit between the Taliban and Afghan officials was indefinitely postponed.

The so-called intra-Afghan dialogue, due to take place in Doha this weekend, fell apart at the last minute in a row over the large number of delegates Kabul wanted to send.

The collapse comes at a critical time and amid continued bloodshed. The Taliban now control or influence about half of Afghanistan and 3,804 civilians were killed there last year, according to a UN tally.

Washington, which is leading an effort to end the war, signalled its disappointment and urged both sides to return to the table, though organisers provided no hint about when the conference might be rescheduled.

Sultan Barakat, who heads the group that was to host the event, said in a statement the postponement was “necessary to build further consensus as to who should participate”. “Clearly the moment is not yet right,” added Barakat, the director of the Centre for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies.

President Ashraf Ghani’s administration had on Tuesday announced a list of 250 persons from all walks of Afghan life, including government figures, who it wanted to send to Doha. But the Taliban poured scorn on the lengthy list, saying it was not “normal” and that they had “no plans” to meet with so many people. The conference is “not an invitation to some wedding or other party at a hotel in Kabul,” the Taliban said this week.

Though the insurgents insisted they would only talk to Ghani officials in a “personal capacity”, any contact between the two parties in Doha would have been hugely significant, especially at a time when Afghanistan is being ripped by fresh violence after the Taliban announced their annual spring offensive.

Ghani officials blamed the Qatari government for the summit’s derailment. In a statement, the presidential palace said Qatar had rejected the long list of delegates and suggested a shorter one which was “not acceptable”.

Analyst Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Centre in Washington said the breakdown illustrated the tough path ahead for peace.

The conference “mess and its dysfunction amplifies just how much of a long, hard slog a reconciliation process will be,” he said.  — AFP

All need to sit: Hamid Karzai

Afghanistan’s former president says he’s saddened by the cancellation of wide-encompassing talks with the Taliban, stressing that peace won’t be possible in his homeland, ravaged by more than 17 years of war, until Afghans from all walks of life sit together and negotiate. Hamid Karzai spoke to the media a day after the Qatari hosts announced that a scheduled gathering of Afghan-to-Afghan talks was postponed indefinitely after a fall out over who should attend.

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