Afghan peace conference canceled over Taliban concerns

April 19 (UPI) — A weekend peace conference in Qatar seeking a first-of-its kind agreement between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban has been abruptly canceled over concerns about who would be at the meeting.

For months, Taliban, Afghan and U.S. officials have been in discussions to bring an end to the 17-year presence of American forces in the Mideast nation. Tensions between the Kabul government and the Taliban, however, have slowed the process. U.S. officials hoped the two-day conference this weekend would jump start direct negotiations between the two sides. It was reported the Taliban balked at the nearly 200 people the Afghan government wanted to bring.

“This unfortunate postponement is necessary to further build consensus as to who should participate in the conference,” said Doha Institute Director Sultan Barakat, whose organization was set to host the summit.

The Afghan government said its delegation represents a cross-section of society and urged Qatar officials not to alter it, but the Taliban opposed the list.

“The creators of the Kabul list must realize that this is an orderly and prearranged conference in a faraway Gulf country and not an invitation to some wedding or other party at a hotel in Kabul,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai said despite the cancellation, the government would continue to reach out to the Taliban in an effort to reach a deal.

Zalmy Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, tweeted that while he’s disappointed, peace efforts must go on.

“We’re in touch with all parties and encouraged that everyone remains committed to dialogue,” he said.

“Dialogue is and always will be key to a political roadmap and lasting peace. There is no alternative.”

An agreement was nearly brokered last month, which would have removed U.S. troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the Taliban agreeing not to harbor terrorists.

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