The Taliban on Monday announced that they will not be able to attend the upcoming meeting in Istanbul, Turkey on Afghan peace process, if it starts on April 16.
Turkey is set to host a conference on Afghan peace process in Istanbul on the request of the United States under the supervision of the United Nations.
But, no date has officially been announced for the meeting, however, sources say that Turkey had proposed April 16 for the start of the meeting that will continue until April 26.
Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem speaking to a media outlet, said that “We cannot participate on April 16th in the Istanbul conference. The subject is under discussion. We will announce our position in due time after consultations.”
Two Taliban officials earlier told Daily Times that they have not taken a final decision about the meeting and the Taliban political office has sent their proposals to the Taliban chief Sheikh Hibatullah and the leadership council and waiting for their response.
“Some Taliban leaders are reluctant to go to Turkey but others want to go there as the Kabul administration would then use this as propaganda if the Taliban skip the meeting,” one Taliban leader said.
He said that the Taliban demanded release of remaining about 7,000 prisoners and removing names of the Taliban leaders from the sanctions list in accordance with the Doha agreement signed in February last year.
Taliban’s decision risks putting peace talks plans in jeopardy, as the US is also in a fix about the withdrawal by May 1, and wanted the conference to start as soon as possible. The American special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was involved in talks with Afghan leaders about the preparations of the conference.
In another development a committee has finalized a peace plan and handed it over to Dr Abdullah that will be presented in the Istanbul meeting, spokesperson to the High Council for National Reconciliation Faraidoon Khwazoon said.
Meanwhile, President Ghani on Sunday said he is ready to reduce his five-year term for peace and to hold elections under the supervision of the international community.
He urged the Taliban to join a “loya jirga” or grand assembly of elders and share their proposals with the people of Afghanistan. “We should pledge in the jirga that we will never take guns and will resolve differences through jirga,” he said.
US President Joe Biden seeks extension in the May 1 deadline for withdrawal of foreign troops.
Under the Doha agreement, it was decided that all foreign troops will be withdrawn in 14 months. But, the Taliban has warned that all responsibility for the prolongation of war, death and destruction will be on the shoulders of those who committed this violation. Taliban have also criticized Germany’s decision to extend the military mission in Afghanistan into 2022, terming it a continuation of war.
The Taliban had proposed a three-month reduction in violence to “create a conducive atmosphere” for intra-Afghan negotiations but attached several conditions, according to a Taliban leader.
The Taliban have been under pressure to reduce violence and declare a ceasefire, however, the Taliban have refused to declare a ceasefire and insist that the issue will be decided in intra-Afghan negotiations. The three-month RIV will be a major confidence building measure when announced and will be the first ever in 20 years of war. Taliban previously declared a week-long RIV before signing of the Doha agreement in February last year and three-day ceasefire on the occasions of Muslim festival of Eid. So it will be a big step when announced.
Meanwhile, Pakistan ambassador to Afghanistan Mansoor Khan also met Khalilzad in Kabul on the Afghan peace process on Monday.
The Pakistani envoy tweeted that he and Khalilzad discussed a way forward in the Afghan peace process including the upcoming Turkey meeting. Khalilzad has held meetings with President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah Abdullah that focused on agenda for the meeting in Turkey.
The Pakistani ambassador also met former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and held discussions on a way forward in Afghan peace process, and strengthening of ties between our brotherly countries.
On his part Karzai said they discussed the peace process and efforts for the success of the forthcoming Turkey Peace Conference.
“Emphasized the importance of peace and stability in Afghanistan as in the best interest of both neighboring countries and the need for regional cooperation for the success of the peace process,” the Afghan leader wrote on Twitter. The Pakistani ambassador met the US envoy and Karzai amid stepped-up efforts for a political solution to the Afghan conflict and to make the meeting in Turkey successful.
Khalilzad has held meetings with President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Dr Abdullah Abdullah that focused on agenda for the meeting in Turkey.