Afghan leader digs in on peace talks despite progress, officials say

Diplomats are said to be frustrated with President Ashraf Ghani's stance. PHOTO: AFP

KABUL (NYTIMES) - President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan has refused to let peace talks move forward even though the Taleban and government negotiators have reached a tentative agreement on the talks' guiding principles, Afghan officials say, further stalling the process despite nearing an apparent breakthrough after months of effort.

The Taleban exposed those fault lines on Saturday (Nov 28) when the insurgent group announced on social media that both sides had agreed to the nearly two dozen points under discussion this month - a framework for how talks would go forward, including points of protocol and how issues would be presented.

But some government officials immediately pushed back on that claim, insisting that details still needed to be worked out and that no agreement had been reached.

They say the Taleban were pressured by Western officials to signal a breakthrough.

Three Afghan officials with knowledge of the talks said that Mr Ghani took exception to at least one detail, insisting that the government side be referred to by its formal name, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, rather than by a more generic reference.

Aides to Mr Ghani did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the issue on Sunday.

Such details have broken down efforts to negotiate before.

The Taleban's past insistence on being referred to as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan - the name of their government when they were in power - derailed an effort at talks in 2013 and was a sticking point in the talks between the United States and the Taleban that eventually led to a deal opening the way for a troop withdrawal, officials said.

That the Taleban were not sticking to that title in the guiding framework this month - agreeing to less specific references to the government and insurgent sides, and to other more central points of contention - was seen as an important accomplishment.

Now, the talks have been cast into further doubt by Mr Ghani's demand, officials and analysts said.

American and Western diplomatic officials have not publicly responded to the breakdown.

But people with direct knowledge of the talks in Doha, Qatar, have described diplomats as being frustrated with Mr Ghani's stance.

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