Critical peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Qatar appeared to have been suspended after a falling out over who should attend.
Sultan Barakat, director of Qatar’s Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies, the organisation sponsoring the talks, tweeted news of the postponement, saying “this is unfortunately necessary to further build consensus as to who should participate in the conference”.
The talks, scheduled for Friday between Afghan and Taliban representatives, were considered a significant first step toward finding a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan and the eventual withdrawal of US troops, which would end America’s longest war.
A list of 243 people was announced by Qatar on Thursday. That list differed from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s list of 250 people, which included many more women, according to a senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Taliban did not immediately comment but Zabihullah Mujahed, Taliban spokesperson, on Wednesday questioned the size of the government delegation, saying it was not “normal” and that they had “no plans” to meet with so many people.
Efforts to find an end to the war in Afghanistan have escalated since the appointment in September of US Peace Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has held several rounds of talks with the Taliban.
Khalilzad said he was “disappointed Qatar’s intra-Afghan initiative has been delayed”.
“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.”
The Taliban had previously refused to hold direct talks with Ghani’s government, calling them puppets of the US.
However, after pressure from Khalilzad and the government of Qatar, where the religious movement maintains a political office, they agreed to an intra-Afghan dialogue that includes members of the government.
The US has been holding separate bilateral peace negotiations with the Taliban in Doha as part of a months-long peace push led by Washington.
The developments come as fresh violence rips across Afghanistan, with the Taliban launching their so-called spring offensive.
The Taliban now control or influence about half the country, and last year was the deadliest yet for civilians.
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