A hopeful breakthrough in a push to end Afghanistan’s grueling 17-year-long 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 United States, which is leading an effort to end the war, signaled its disappointment and urged both sides to return to the table, though organizers gave no hint about when the conference might be rescheduled.
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 United Nations tally.
CBS correspondent Sami Yousafzai told The Reference in an interview that what happened was mismanagement by the hosting country, Qatar, which sought to emerge as a powerful mediator capable of intervening to resolve international problems, however, it could not even convince the two sides to sit at one table of negotiation.
“There is a possibility that the round of negotiations scheduled to be held in the Russian capital Moscow will be delayed, and even postponed indefinitely. What happened requires the intervention of influencing partiers to bring together the Afghani government and Taliban,” he added.
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 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 the conference is “not an invitation to some wedding or other party at a hotel in Kabul.”
Though the insurgents insisted they would only talk to Ghani’s government 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.
Kabul 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.”
“I am disappointed Qatar’s intra-Afghan initiative has been delayed. We are in touch with all parties and encouraged that everyone remains committed to dialogue and the Afghan Peace Process,” U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted on April 18.
“Dialogue is and always will be key to a political roadmap and lasting peace. There is no alternative. 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. I stand ready to help if our help is needed,” Khalilzad added.
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 Taliban have recently tried to take control of new areas in Afghanistan to support their position in the negotiations. Since its establishment in 1996, the movement has sought to control the government and apply an extreme interpretation of Islam. However, the US-led coalition swiftly overthrew it in 2001, later followed by the first democratic election in Afghanistan since 1969.
In July 2006, Taliban returned to declare a rebellion south of the country, and through the following years, the movement tried to achieve the biggest amount of losses within rows of the Afghani government by sudden attacks or direct battles.