The Taliban has refused to negotiate with a team announced by the Afghan government, the armed group’s spokesman has said, in a potential setback to the next steps in the United States-brokered peace process.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Saturday the group will not negotiate with the 21-member team as it was not selected in a way that included “all Afghan factions”.
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On Thursday, the Afghan government’s Ministry of Peace Affairs announced the team, with US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad praising the move as “inclusive”.
The team, headed by Masoom Stanekzai, former chief of the National Directorate of Security and supporter of President Ashraf Ghani, includes politicians, former officials, civil society representatives – among them five women.
The US signed a troop withdrawal deal with the Taliban in February. But progress on moving to negotiations between the group and the Afghan government has been delayed by a feud among Afghan politicians.
Negotiations have also been delayed due to a disagreement between the Taliban and the government over the release of prisoners and a possible ceasefire as preconditions for further talks.
Mujahid said the fact that the team was announced by the Afghan government “violated” its agreement with the US and that not all sides had agreed to the team.
“In order to reach true and lasting peace, the aforementioned team must be agreed upon by all effective Afghan sides so that it can represent all sides,” he said.
In response, Najia Anwari, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Peace Affairs, said: “This team was made after wide consultation with different layers of the Afghan society.”
Ghani’s political rival Abdullah Abdullah has not yet confirmed whether he will support the delegation, a move diplomats say would be important given Abdullah’s strong influence in the country’s north and west.
Abdullah’s spokesman on Friday declined to confirm or deny whether he would support the team. Both the spokesman and the US embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday.
Both Ghani and Abdullah claim to be Afghanistan‘s rightful leader after disputed September elections.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to mediate between the two leaders to create an “inclusive” government during a daylong visit to Kabul on Monday.
Following his failure in breaking the political deadlock, Pompeo announced a $1bn cut in aid to Afghanistan, which he said could be reversed.