An Afghan peace conference supported by Washington in Turkey has been postponed due to Taliban involvement, three sources told Reuters on Tuesday.
The meeting was scheduled for April 24 to speed up an agreement between the Taliban insurgency and the Afghan government following Washington’s announcement that foreign troops would leave Afghanistan on September 11.
“The Istanbul summit does not take place at the specified date because the Taliban refused to attend,” a senior Afghan government official told Reuters.
The postponement was confirmed by two other sources, including an official whose country is involved in the planning process. There was no immediately revised date.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey, one of the hosts of the talks, later confirmed that they had been postponed until after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends around mid-May.
An Afghan government spokesman declined to comment.
Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem told Reuters in a text message that the group had no information about the launch and that he could not say anything about future dates for the Ramadan conference post.
The Taliban had previously refused to attend summits until all foreign forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan. The United States and the Taliban agreed last year that all foreign forces would be withdrawn from Afghanistan on May 1 – a date pushed back last week by US President Joe Biden.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price did not confirm the launch but said broader diplomatic efforts would continue: “We have always been clear, Istanbul was not a replacement for Doha.”
The Taliban and Afghan government negotiators began peace talks last year in Qatar’s capital Doha, but progress was slow and violence continued to escalate in Afghanistan.
Washington sought to speed up the process, which included pushing for the Turkish summit, which would involve more than 20 countries and global bodies.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said earlier on Tuesday that he could not confirm if the conference had been postponed.
“The United Nations, together with the conveners, Qatar, Turkey, continues to work with representatives of both the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban on ways to strengthen and increase the impetus for the intra-Afghan negotiations,” Dujarric told reporters.
The UN Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, was in Doha last week to discuss with Afghan parties “the best way the international community can support them in making progress in their negotiations for a just and lasting political settlement,” he said. Dujarric.
“Our focus will continue to be on progress in negotiations within Afghanistan, which is an important part of the way forward.”
A leading U.S. general on Tuesday expressed “serious doubts” about the Taliban’s reliability as a negotiating partner for U.S. and Afghan diplomats following the withdrawal of the U.S. military from the United States’ longest-running war.
The Islamist Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when they were ousted by US-led forces. Since then, they have carried out a protracted uprising and still control large territories.