Afghan envoy ‘summoned’ to State Dept over public criticism of Taliban talks

Adviser Hamdullah Mohib attends a press conference closing a two-day United Nations Conference on Afghanistan in Geneva Nov. 28 2018

Fabrice Coffrini AFP Getty Images

"Knowing Ambassador Khalilzad's history, his own personal history, he has ambitions in Afghanistan".

"He is ostracizing and alienating a very trusted ally and partner", Mohib said of Khalilzad while speaking to reporters in Washington.

Mohib's comments were the most strident public complaints to date by an Afghan official over the Kabul's government's exclusion from negotiations with the Taliban. He was born and raised in Afghanistan, but studied in the USA and has worked in the US government in various positions, including as ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations.

"We think either Zal, Ambassador Khalilzad, doesn't know how to negotiate (or) there may be other reasons behind what he's doing. It's definitely not for peace", he said.

The talks have gained momentum in recent months as the United States has chose to engage with the armed group, which has been waging a deadly rebellion since it was removed from power in 2001. Khalilzad and Ghani have also spoken by phone multiple times, Palladino added, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass has had additional in-person meetings. The sides reported progress, but no final deal on a withdrawal of US-led worldwide forces.

"Viceroy" was the title of the colonial administrator of British-ruled India and holds negative connotations in South Asia.

"We remain in close consultation with President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, and other senior members of the Afghan Government on all matters involving peace in Afghanistan", he said, adding that "And at every available opportunity, often multiple times during a single trip overseas, Special Representative Khalilzad has traveled to Kabul for updates and consultations".

Kabul has been excluded from the talks, held in Qatar, because the Taliban refuses direct negotiations with the Afghan government, insisting it is a puppet of the West and demanding that foreign troops pull out of the country before bilateral talks can begin.

Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington Feb. 8 2019
Jacquelyn Martin AP FILE

Mohib's remarks drew a strong admonition from David Hale, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs.

US officials have insisted they will not accept a peace deal with the Taliban without direct talks between the militant group and the Afghan government.

After news of Mohib's comments spread, he was summoned to the State Department to meet with Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale, according to the department's deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino, adding that Hale communicated the "United States government's displeasure" and rejected Mohib's categorization.

Afghanistan has also complained to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) against Islamabad due to its engagement with the Taliban and attempts to subvert the Afghan peace process.

Mr Khalilzad, who led the U.S. team in Doha, said the talks focused on four key points: "counter-terrorism assurances, troop withdrawal, intra-Afghan dialogue, and a comprehensive ceasefire".

Critics, now including this senior member of the Afghan government, have said leaving Ghani and his government out of the room has weakened them and shown the Taliban that they don't have to deal with them.

Afghan officials worry that Khalilzad's priority is securing an end to the US's longest war at Kabul's expense.

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