Doha: Hopes for a breakthrough in a push to end Afghanistan’s gruelling conflict suffered a major setback 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 Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies.
President Ashraf Ghani’s administration had 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.
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 signficant, 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’.
Even some of those Ghani said would attend dropped out, slamming the guest list as rigged to politically strengthen the president, who faces delayed elections in September.
The Doha summit was separate from ongoing direct talks between the Taliban and the US.
While the insurgents did meet with Afghan politicians outside the government in Moscow in February, they have steadfastly refused to meet with Ghani and his administration, which they view as a puppet regime.