Doha talks postponed after Taliban objects to presence of Afghan officials

A three day conference between the Taliban and a delegation of Afghan that was to be held in Doha, Qatar has been postponed after the Taliban objected to the presence of Afghan government officials. The Taliban has consistently refused to negotiate with the Afghan government and said the composition of the delegation to Doha indicates that it represents the Afghan government.

Afghan officials and Western diplomats told Reuters the Doha conference has been delayed until the composition of the Afghan delegation is reworked to the Taliban’s liking

“The government will have to change the composition of the delegation to make this meeting happen,” an anonymous Western diplomat told the news service.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters that the “presence of some participants was completely against the list of what was agreed upon,” and indicated that the inclusion of Afghan government officials was unacceptable.

In an official statement on its website, Voice of Jihad, the Taliban signaled that the presence of government officials in the Afghan delegation was unacceptable, and that the size of the delegation was also unwieldy.

“[T]he hosts of this conference have explained in both written and verbal form that no one will be representing the Kabul administration in this conference,” the Taliban said.

“The creators of Kabul list must realize that this is an orderly and prearranged conference in a far-away Khaleeji country and not an invitation to some wedding or other party at a hotel in Kabul,” the Taliban continued.

The jihadist group also objected to the fact that the Afghan government, which it derogatorily refers to as the “Kabul administration,” published the list of delegates, which the Taliban says is proof that the government was trying to take ownership of the conference.

The Taliban’s refusal to meet with the Afghan government is nothing new. The group has stated for more than a decade that it will not talk with the Afghan government as it views it as a “stooge” and “puppet” of the US and the West. The Taliban has repeatedly stated that it will consider talking to the Afghan government only when US and NATO forces withdraw from the country.

The Taliban has also denounced efforts by the Afghan government to build consensus to conduct talks with the Taliban. Last week, the Taliban urged all Afghans to boycott the upcoming peace council that is to include thousands of influential Afghans from all walks of the country. The Taliban called the peace jirga a tool of “the invaders and their stooges” to prolong the Western occupation of Afghanistan.

The US government, under the direction of special representative Zalmay Khalilzad, has been desperately pushing negotiation with the Taliban, and believes it can convince the group to ultimately talk with the Afghan government. In the process, Khalilzad has sidelined and infuriated the Afghan government, and caused deep rifts in Afghan society.

Khalilzad claims that a “draft” agreement is in place with the Taliban on two key issues: the US withdrawal and the Taliban preventing Afghanistan from being used by terrorist groups to attack other countries. Mujahid, in a statement released on March 3, said that “no understanding has so far been reached about any agreement or document.” For the past two decades, the Taliban has refused to denounce al Qaeda, its key ally, and is unlikely to do so as it senses US desperation to withdraw.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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