US, Afghan government tensions burst into public over Taliban talks

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

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

Pointing towards Ambassador Khalilzad's past efforts to nominate himself in presidential elections, Mohib went on to claim that the ongoing efforts by Ambassador Khalilzad could be seen as an attempt to establish an interim government under his leadership.

"The perception in Afghanistan and people in government think that perhaps, perhaps all this talk is to create a caretaker government of which he will then become the viceroy". "It's definitely not for peace", he said.

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. 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.

Viceroy is a politically loaded term in South Asia as it was the title of the colonial administrator of British-ruled India.

Still, Palladino defended the USA approach, saying Khalilzad has briefed Ghani and others in visits to Kabul "at every available opportunity, often multiples times on a single trip overseas", although Khahilzad did not fly to Kabul after this most recent round ended this week.

The U.S. and Taliban reached an agreement "in draft" Tuesday on an American troop withdrawal and Taliban commitment to deny safe haven to terror groups, but talks have been criticized because they don't include Ghani's government - something the U.S. says will come once a deal between it and the Taliban is finalized.

Pakistan government had invited the Taliban for talks along with the United States in Islamabad, infuriating Kabul.

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 USA undersecretary of state for political affairs.

Robert Palladino, the State Department's deputy spokesman, said David Hale, the USA undersecretary of state for political affairs, "summoned" Mohib and told him he rejected the attack on "the US approach to reconciliation".

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.

At the State Department, Mr Mohib was informed that his remarks could hurt the efforts to restore peace to the war-ravaged country.

India has been a key stakeholder in the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

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

"The Taliban are in no mood to negotiate with the Afghan government, and there is no reason for them to do so".

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