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Taliban says ‘no agreement’ on direct talks with Afghan government

Afghan provincial governors and members of the High Peace Council, an organization set up to promote peace talks with the Taliban, gather Dec. 6, in Kandahar City, Afghanistan, to talk about reintegrating former Taliban into society. (Spc. Edward A. Garibay, 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/U.S. Army)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Taliban has rejected a statement from a senior Afghan minister who said he hoped direct talks would begin within two weeks between the militant group and the government in Kabul.

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, said on July 28 that negotiations with the government will only come after an agreement has been reach with the United States on the departure of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

Another Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said there had been “no agreement” on a meeting between government officials and the insurgent group.

Once the insurgents reach a deal with the United States, the Taliban would be open to intra-Afghan talks, Mujahid said, insisting that any government representatives would have to participate in a personal capacity.

The comments come the day after Abdul Salam Rahimi, Afghanistan’s state minister for peace affairs, told reporters that a 15-member Afghan government delegation was “preparing for direct talks” with the Taliban.

“We are working with all sides and hope that in the next two weeks the first meeting will take place in a European country,” Rahimi said, as U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was continuing a visit to Kabul.

Khalilzad is expected to return to Qatar during the next week for an eighth round of direct talks between U.S. officials and Taliban negotiators to end the nearly 18-year war in Afghanistan.

Two Taliban officials told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity on July 28 that the group’s negotiating team will include five more officials, rising to 19 the number of Taliban negotiators.

Both Washington and the Taliban have said recently that they were making progress toward reaching a peace deal, which would require direct talks between the Taliban and representatives of Afghanistan’s government.

The Taliban so far has refused to speak to President Ashraf Ghani’s government in any official capacity, saying it is illegitimate and is a puppet of foreign states.

On July 28, Ghani marked the official start of Afghanistan’s presidential election campaign by insisting that “peace is coming” and that negotiations with the Taliban “will take place.”

Ghani was speaking at a rally in Kabul marking the start of two months of campaigning, a day after he dissolved Afghanistan’s High Peace Council. The body had been appointed by the president and previously had been meant to lead Kabul’s peace efforts with the Taliban.

Ghani, who is facing 17 other candidates, hopes to score a second term at the delayed presidential election, now set for September 28.