The Taliban will not attend a meeting on the Afghan peace process in Turkey if it took place this week, the armed group’s spokesman said.
Turkey is hosting a crucial meeting this month to be attended by the United Nations and Qatar as part of a United States-backed push to see a peace agreement between Afghanistan’s warring sides finalised.
Diplomats and officials briefed on the matter said it was planned to take place over 10 days from April 16, though the date had not been finalised or officially announced.
“We can’t take part in Turkey’s conference on 16 April as discussions on attending the conference are under way,” Taliban spokesman Mohammed Naeem said in a message sent to news agencies.
While no date for the Turkey conference has been set, time is running out on a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan in keeping with a deal the administration of former US President Donald Trump made with the Taliban more than a year ago.
Officials fear that if an agreement is not reached soon, violence in the country will surge.
US President Joe Biden has said it would be “hard” to withdraw troops by May, but that it was unlikely they would still be there next year.
Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave both the Taliban and the Afghan government an eight-page proposed peace plan, which they were to discuss and revise before coming to Turkey to cobble together an agreement.
Blinken’s peace plan called for the protection of the rights of women and minorities and allowed for constitutional reform. It also called for the establishment of an interim administration.
The plan also included the setting up of an Islamic Advisory Council which would advise on all laws to ensure they are kept within Islamic tenets, an apparent concession to the Taliban.
But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered an alternative to Blinken’s proposal, in which he would head an interim government until elections could be held within months.
The Taliban have made it clear they would not accept a government headed by Ghani, but they have yet to offer an alternative to Binken’s proposal.
Meanwhile, Washington’s peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, the man who negotiated the US troop withdrawal under Trump, has been shuttling between Doha, where the Taliban maintain a political office, and Kabul.
The US embassy in Kabul on Monday said Khalilzad had spent four days in the Afghan capital, meeting with government officials and civil society leaders and underscoring “why it is important that both sides accelerate the peace process”.
“In all his meetings, Ambassador Khalilzad was encouraged by the shared vision for an Istanbul conference that advances prospects for a just and durable peace to in Afghanistan,” said a statement released by the US embassy.