The Afghan government has slammed the Taliban after the militant group rejected Kabul's negotiating team for upcoming intra-Afghan peace talks aimed at ending the nearly 19-year war.
Waheed Omar, President Ashraf Ghani's adviser, told reporters in Kabul on March 29 that the Taliban "should not make excuses any more" to start the long-delayed negotiations.
The talks were scheduled to begin on March 10, but were delayed due to political bickering in Kabul over the composition of the negotiating team.
After weeks of delays, the government on March 27 announced a 21-member team -- including five women -- to take part in the talks, a key step in the U.S.-facilitated peace process.
But the Taliban on March 28 rejected the negotiation team, saying the government had failed to put forward an "inclusive" team.
"In order to reach true and lasting peace, the aforementioned team must be agreed upon by all effective Afghan sides so that it can represent all sides," said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on March 28.
Omar rejected the Taliban’s claim, saying the negotiating team represented “a united Afghanistan.”
Peace Ministry spokeswoman Najia Anwari said the Taliban's stance was unjustified as the negotiating team was made after wide consultations among Afghan society.
Ghani's political rival Abdullah Abdullah has not confirmed whether he will support the delegation.
Ghani and Abdullah are locked in a political standoff, with the latter rejecting the outcome of the disputed September 2019 presidential election and threatening to form a parallel government.
Abdullah's spokesman Fraidoon Khwazoon said that although the announced list was not final and there were "considerations that needed to be addressed," it should not be rejected outright.
U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad had congratulated Afghan political and civil-society leaders for forming what he called an “inclusive negotiating team.”
Under a deal signed by the United States and the Taliban in Doha on February 29, Taliban representatives agreed to commit to direct talks with the Afghan government.
In return for the start of talks and a series of security commitments from the Taliban, all U.S. troops and other foreign coalition forces are meant to withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2021.