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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - KABUL: Afghan politicians are excluding President Ashraf Ghani from peace talks with the Taliban as they work on their own plan to try and end almost two decades of fighting.
The armed group has refused to deal with Ghani and his administration, dubbing it a puppet of the West, in months of negotiations and discussions coordinated by the international community.
A high-profile meeting on Saturday was attended by Afghanistan’s Chief Executive and Ghani’s rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Deputy Chief Executive Hajji Mohammad Mohaqiq and former President Hamid Karzai among others. They were seeking to draw up a mechanism for peace talks with the Taliban, despite Ghani’s condition that the insurgents declare a truce before starting an intra-Afghan dialogue, officials said.
“These prominent figures are working on a plan with a wider base by including the government to be part of it,” Omaid Maisan, a spokesman for Abdullah, told Arab News on Sunday when asked if their plan meant sidelining Ghani’s bid for talks with the Taliban.
Maisan added that Ghani’s move to exclude Afghan leaders in talks with the Taliban, as well as new government appointments without factoring in the consideration of the people he shared power with, was “worrying.”
Saturday’s meeting was a result of complaints from Abdullah and other politicians who accuse Ghani of monopolizing the peace process by not consulting them before setting up a team which could represent the government in the first direct talks with the Taliban in Germany.
Ghani’s spokesmen were not available for comment when contacted by Arab News.
Almost everyone at Saturday’s meeting was in favor of a reduction in violence followed by a nationwide cease-fire, once the timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan had been set, as proposed by the Taliban.
Abdullah, speaking at an event on Sunday, said neither he nor other leaders had insisted on a cease-fire as a precondition for the talks.
“We are assuring the Afghan people that no factional or personal interest will hamper our move for peace,” he said.
Local media reported Karzai saying that the leaders had sat together to “exchange views on the settlement of the conflict” in Afghanistan. His former vice president, Younus Qanooni, said the plan was intended to be an outline by politicians for the Afghan people for peace.
The Taliban and US diplomats have held at least 10 rounds of talks in Doha, where the group has its political office, but without including Ghani’s officials.
Taliban refuses to deal with Ashraf Ghani’s government.
Their latest discussions followed months of stalled talks and sparked hope of a peace deal being finally signed between the Taliban and US delegates after 18 years of conflict in the country.
The Taliban on Saturday accused Ghani of trying to block the peace process by insisting on a truce.
“At a time when the negotiation process in Qatar has reached a decisive stage and the hopes of peace have rekindled in the hearts of our compatriots, the ruler of Arg Palace (Ashraf Ghani) not only voiced his opposition to the negotiation process during an interview in Switzerland but also made other irresponsible remarks,” said a statement on the group’s website.
Analyst Wahidullah Ghazikhail said the Saturday meeting could further isolate Ghani’s government. Another analyst, Zabihullah Pakteen, said the fact that the politicians were being led by Karzai posed a greater challenge for the president.
“The peace talks are something the opposition think they have on their hands to finish Ghani off for good,” Pakteen told Arab News.
Last month Abdullah rejected the preliminary results of September’s presidential election and his team filed thousands of complaints about the initial outcome. The country’s Independent Election Commission said Ghani had secured 50.64 percent of the vote, while Abdullah had won nearly 40 percent.
The complaints will take several weeks to verify.
In 2014, there was a second round of voting amid complaints of massive rigging. After a US-brokered deal, Ghani became president, sharing power with Abdullah in the National Unity Government.
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