Taliban not talking to Afghan government

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The Taliban declined to start talks with the Afghan government’s new negotiating team in a setback to a US-brokered peace process in one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.

Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the militants could not talk to the 21-member team named last week as it did not take all parties into account.

The team is headed by Masoom Stanekzai, an ex-security chief and supporter of President Ashraf Ghani, and includes politicians, former officials and representatives of civil society. Five members are women.

“To reach true and lasting peace, the team must be agreed on by all effective Afghan sides so it can represent all sides,” said Mujahid.

The US, which ousted the Taliban in 2001, signed a troop withdrawal deal with the group in February.

Progress on moving to talks between the militants and the Afghan government has been delayed by a feud between Afghan politicians as well as disagreement between the Taliban and government pn prisoner releases and a possible ceasefire.

Afghan ministry of peace affairs spokeswoman Najia Anwari said the Taliban’s stance was unjustified as the negotiating team was named after wide consultations among Afghan society.

Ghani’s political rival Abdullah Abdullah has not confirmed whether he will support the delegation, potentially important given his camp’s strong influence in the north and west.

Abdullah’s spokesman Fraidoon Khwazoon said the announced list was not final and there were “considerations that needed to be addressed”, it should not be rejected outright.

“All sides including the Taliban should not lose the opportunity for peace by making illogical excuses. The Taliban should not lose the current opportunity.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo failed to mediate between Abdullah and Ghana to create an “inclusive” government during a visit to Kabul last week and announced a $1 billion cut in aid to Afghanistan, which could be reversed.