US envoy to Afghan peace talks 'disappointed' by collapse in talks with Taliban

US envoy to Afghan peace talks 'disappointed' by collapse in talks with Taliban
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The U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan expressed disappointment after a planned meeting between the Taliban and a group of Afghan politicians in Qatar collapsed, revealing ongoing divisions as the two sides negotiate an end to the war.

“I'm disappointed Qatar's intra-Afghan initiative has been delayed. We're in touch with all parties and encouraged that everyone remains committed to dialogue and the #AfghanPeaceProcess,” U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted Thursday.

“Dialogue is and always will be key to a political roadmap and lasting peace. There is no alternative. I urge all sides to seize the moment and put things back on track by agreeing to a participant list that speaks for all Afghans. I stand ready to help if our help is needed,” he added.

A delegation of 250 Afghan officials was set to travel to Doha this weekend to meet with the Taliban before the meeting suddenly was canceled on Thursday, Reuters reported.

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The meeting collapsed over disagreements regarding the scope of the Afghan delegation after some government officials announced they would attend in a personal capacity, according to the outlet.

Some of the meeting's organizers expressed optimism that a deal could still be reached and that the two sides were still committed to peace.

“The postponement is in no way a reflection of disagreement over substantive issues to do with the conference agenda and there is no questioning of the seriousness of the commitment shown by all sides to achieving peace,” professor Sultan Barakat, director of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies, wrote in a letter obtained by Reuters. “This does not reflect a lack of will to deliver peace, but clearly the moment is not yet right.”

“Achieving peace in Afghanistan after 18 years of war was never going to be easy, and this is just one obstacle to overcome. We urge all parties to work patiently to ensure that these talks take place.”

The meeting was intended to play out similarly to a Moscow assembly held in February in which the objective was for Taliban officials and Afghanistan government representatives to prepare for potential talks by becoming familiar with each other, Reuters noted.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office blamed Qatari officials for Thursday's cancellation, saying the nation authorized a list of participants different from those Kabul put forth, a move Ghani said “meant disrespect for the national will of the Afghans.”

“This act is not acceptable for the people of Afghanistan.”

The Taliban had also expressed dismay that Ghani said the Afghan delegation would represent the Afghan nation and government, according to Reuters. The Taliban said its aim was to ensure the removal of foreign troops from the war-torn country. 

The Trump administration is also engaging in negotiations with the Taliban to facilitate a withdrawal of U.S. troops, though the talks have been met with bipartisan skepticism on Capitol Hill.