Afghan President postpones US trip to discuss Taliban deal
Kabul: Afghanistan's president has postponed a planned visit to Washington early next week where he was to discuss the US-Taliban talks on ending America's longest war, a person familiar with the negotiations said Friday.
The development emerged after the US envoy negotiating with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, abruptly returned to Qatar for unexpected talks with the insurgents on the deal that he had described as complete just days ago.
The Taliban maintain a political office in the Gulf Arab state.
The agreement "in principle" to begin a US troop withdrawal only needed President Donald Trump's approval, Khalilzad had announced on Monday.
The person who told The Associated Press of President Ashraf Ghani's postponed Washington trip was not authorised to talk to reporters and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Since Khalilzad's announcement on Monday, two horrific Taliban car bombings in the Afghan capital, Kabul one of which killed a US service member and objections to the deal from the Afghan government and several former US ambassadors to Afghanistan have put pressure on Khalilzad as many wonder whether a deal will truly bring peace.
The Taliban have explained their surge in deadly attacks including on the capitals of northern Kunduz and Baghlan provinces last weekend as necessary to give them a stronger negotiating position in talks with the US, a stance that has appalled Afghans and others as scores of civilians are killed.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel has even demanded that Khalilzad testify before the House committee about the negotiations, saying that "I do not consider your testimony at this hearing optional."
The Afghan president has been shut out of the US-Taliban negotiations, and during Khalilzad's visit to Kabul this week Ghani was shown the agreement but not allowed to keep it.
The Taliban have rejected negotiations with the Afghan government, seeing it as a puppet of the US, though it has expressed willingness to meet with Afghan officials in their personal capacity.
Ghani's government this week raised objections to the deal, echoing the former US ambassadors' concerns that a full US troop withdrawal that moves too quickly and without requiring the Taliban to meet certain conditions, such as reducing violence, could lead to "total civil war" such as the one that engulfed the country in the 1990s after a rapid Soviet pullout and before the Taliban swept into power.
"Afghans have been bitten by this snake before," presidential adviser Waheed Omer said Thursday, recalling past agreements from which the Afghan government has been sidelined.
The US hopes its deal with the Taliban will bring the militant group to the table for intra-Afghan talks to begin ahead of Afghanistan's presidential election on September 28 a vote that Ghani insisted must be held on time and not be swept aside by any kind of interim government.