The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has held a fresh round of backdoor talks with the government leaders and has pressed them to expedite efforts to begin the much-awaited intra-Afghan negotiations, sources familiar with the talks said on Wednesday.
The sources also reported serious disagreements between President Ashraf Ghani and Mr. Khalilzad over some items reflected in the draft agreement which according to the US envoy is closed and needs President Trump’s approval to be signed between the two sides.
Mr. Khalilzad is insisting for the formation of an authorized and inclusive negotiating team where Mr. Ghani will not have the authority to reject the decisions of this peace negotiating team, sources said.
However, the sources said, Mr. Ghani is pushing a leadership role for the Afghan government to avoid imprudence in the negotiation process.
The US envoy has asked Mr. Ghani to get ready for intra-Afghan negotiations at least one week ahead of the presidential election scheduled for 28 September, said the sources.
Sources said that over the past three days, Mr. Khalilzad has held four meetings with President Ghani.
“Many meetings was held last time when Mr. Khalilzad was here. The delegation has been formed and now it is handed to the president through Khalilzad. Let’s see if Mr. President doesn’t manipulate it. If it is manipulated, it will be damaged,” said Mohammad Mohaqiq, leader of Hizb-e-Wahdat-e-Islami party.
He added: “This team is totally authorized. There are veteran leaders of Afghanistan in it. They have sufficient experience and there is no need for training.”
According to Mohaqiq, the details of the peace negotiating team and also a group comprising the Afghan politicians which is supposed to oversee the undertakings of the peace negotiating team have been shared with the president.
When asked whether Afghan politicians await Mr. Ghani to announce the negotiating team, Mr. Mohaqiq said they are not waiting for the president to announce the list.
He said the next step of the talks will start once the US and the Taliban sign the agreement.
In his meetings with President Ghani, the US envoy has assured that the US will continue supporting the Afghan security forces.
Sources said that Mr. Khalilzad has confirmed that the issue of terror hideouts and training camps in Pakistan has not been addressed in the draft framework agreement between the US and the Taliban and also the relations between Pakistan and the Taliban have not been clarified.
However, to attract more support from Pakistan in the Afghan peace process, the Pakistani Army Chief General Qamar Jawed Bajwa is expected to visit Kabul in the near future.
This comes at a time that President Ghani’s spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said the Afghan government is concerned about the consequences of the deal same as former US envoys are concerned.
Mr. Sediqqi said in a tweet that the Afghan government wants clarification on the document to study its consequences and “prevent its risks”.
On Tuesday Ghani’s critics also criticized his approach on the formation of the negotiating team, saying that delay in this respect shows there is a lack of will on moving forward the peace process.
Back in July, the State Minister for Peace Affairs, Abdul Salam Rahimi said discussions have started on the formation of a 15-member negotiating team.
“The president of Afghanistan does not have the will for peace with the Taliban ahead of [presidential] elections to safeguard his thrown,” said MP Ali Akbar Jamshidi.
Khalilzad, who recently wrapped up the ninth round of talks with the Taliban in Doha, criticized the Afghan government for not finalizing the negotiating team which is expected to enter into direct talks with the Taliban.
Talking to TOLOnews, Mr. Khalilzad said the United States and the Taliban have reached an agreement in principle and the document is closed but clarified that it will be finalized when it is approved by President Trump.
Back in April, President Ghani’s former Special Envoy and former head of the High Peace Council’s Secretariat, Mohammad Umer Daudzai said that the newly-established Reconciliation Leadership Council will create a “unified and clear” stance on the peace process.