Afghan peace talks cancelled amid dispute over delegation size
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.
Sultan Barakat, the Director of the Doha Institute’s Centre for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies, which 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 Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies.
US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said he was "disappointed" the summit had been postponed.
"We're in touch with all parties and encouraged that everyone remains committed to dialogue," the envoy wrote on Twitter. "I urge all sides to seize the moment and put things back on track by agreeing to a participant list that speaks for all Afghans."
US President Donald Trump had previously said that he wanted a major scale-back in the number of US troops serving in Afghanistan. 14,000 US troops currently operate there as part of a NATO peacekeeping mission.
President Ashraf Ghani's administration had on Tuesday announced a list of 250 people 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. Taliban spokesman Mohammed Suhail Shaheen told the New Arab that the Taliban delegation only consisted of 25 people, including three women. (Arabic link)
The conference is "not an invitation to some wedding or other party at a hotel in Kabul," the Taliban said this week.
Though the Taliban 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.
The Taliban have previously refused to meet with the Ghani government, characterizing it as a “puppet regime”.
Doha has previously hosted five rounds of talks between the Taliban and US Representative Khalilzad.