The Australian

Taliban backs out of peace summit

- JESSICA DONATI NANCY A. YOUSSEF

Internatio­nal efforts to broker a peace settlement in Afghanista­n have suffered a setback after the Taliban backed out of joining a US-backed summit that was slated to start later this week in Turkey.

A Taliban spokesman said the group wouldn’t attend the conference because “our consultati­ons have not ended on this topic.”

Facing a May 1 deadline to withdraw US troops from the country, the Biden administra­tion has spent weeks laying the groundwork for the conference in the hope it would accelerate the slow-moving peace process that began last year. The conference has now been postponed.

The administra­tion had hoped the Turkey talks would yield a ceasefire agreement and an interim government that included the Taliban, enabling US and NATO allies to withdraw their troops after 20 years. The talks were designed to replicate the format of the conference held in Germany, where senior Afghans selected a leader for Afghanista­n after the Taliban was ousted from power in 2001.

In an article posted to its English-language Voice of Jihad website, which often reflects the thinking among the group’s members, the Taliban denounced the US proposal for an interim government and said similar efforts had failed.

“For them, an honorable exit is in the establishm­ent of a joint government comprising of the Taliban, present quislings and various political parties in Afghanista­n,” the article said, according to SITE Intelligen­ce Group, which tracks radical groups online.

“Afghans have repeatedly witnessed ridiculous democratic elections in Afghanista­n. Would they then trust such a system? To repeat failed experience­s is not at all wise.”

The US-backed Afghan government said the Taliban’s refusal to join the Turkey summit reflected the group’s lack of commitment to the peace process.

“The government of Turkey planned very efficientl­y and we are fully ready to attend the conference, but if the other side doesn’t show up, there is no need to hold the conference,” Nader Nadery, a senior negotiator for the Afghan government, said.

The State Department did not comment.

Under the terms of the deal that the US and the Taliban signed last year under the Trump administra­tion, the US must withdraw all troops by May 1. In return, the Taliban promised to ensure that terrorist groups never again use Afghanista­n as a haven to plot attacks against the US and its allies.

Top US envoy for Afghan peace Zalmay Khalilzad has been on a frenetic travel schedule in recent weeks in an effort to help set up the conference. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin are meeting with allies this week in Brussels to discuss Afghanista­n.

In the year since the US signed the deal, the UN has documented rising violence by the Taliban.

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