Taliban say no decision yet on attending Turkey meeting

By: AFP      Published: 08:21 PM, 12 Apr, 2021
Taliban say no decision yet on attending Turkey meeting

The Taliban said Monday they hadn't decided whether to attend an international conference in Turkey called by Washington to hammer out a peace deal aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan.

The United States is pushing for the conference ahead of a May 1 deadline to withdraw all foreign forces from Afghanistan.

Months of talks between the Taliban and Afghan government in Qatar have so far not yielded any results.

No date has officially been announced for the proposed Turkey conference, but Afghan media reports said Washington wanted it to start on April 16.

"We can't take part in the Turkey conference on the 16th," Taliban spokesman Mohammed Naeem told AFP.

"We are still pondering over when or whether or not to attend," he said.

The United States, according to a leaked state department report, wants the Turkey conference to approve a plan to replace the present leadership of President Ashraf Ghani with an interim government involving the Taliban.

Afghan officials said the meeting would also focus on a ceasefire, a consistent demand of Ghani's government.

The insurgents have already warned there would be "consequences" if Washington fails to meet the May 1 withdrawal deadline -- a goal described as "tough" by US President Joe Biden, who inherited the deal from predecessor Donald Trump.

Afghan authorities have expressed their readiness to attend the Turkey conference, and the country's top council tasked with leading the peace process is drafting a final proposal to be presented there.

Ghani has drawn his own three-stage peace plan, which officials say is expected to be part of the council's overall proposal.

His plan includes reaching a political settlement with the Taliban and announcing a ceasefire.

Ghani then proposes holding an early presidential election in which the Taliban could take part to form a "government of peace".

He also said that any deal reached at Turkey should be approved by loya jirga -- a traditional Afghan meeting of tribal elders and other stakeholders.

Even as diplomatic moves intensify ahead of the meeting, fighting between government forces and insurgents has surged, with both sides claiming heavy casualties on the other.