Kabul, July 31: The Afghanistan government on Wednesday said it had formed a team of 15 members for peace talks with the Taliban militant group. However, the Ministry for Peace Affairs didn't disclose the names of the government negotiators, only saying that the panel was formed "after comprehensive consultations and discussions with various" people. "The negotiation team formation has been finalized and members appointed. But (the) names of the team members will be released in the next phase of the process. We can assure it will be soon," Najia Anwari, a spokeswoman for the Ministry, told Efe news.
The development comes just as US envoy for Afghan peace Zalmay Khalilzad wrapped up what he described as "the most productive visit to Afghanistan since I took this job as special representative". Khalilzad, who is leading US officials in their talks with Taliban leaders, was in Kabul to hold consultations with Afghan leaders on the next steps of the peace process. Afghanistan: Kabul Releases More Than 200 Taliban Prisoners From Pul-e-Charkhi Jail Amid Peace Talks.
"The US and Afghanistan have agreed on the next steps. And a negotiating team and technical support group are being finalized," Khalilzad tweeted on Wednesday. "I'm off to Doha, with a stop in Islamabad. In Doha, if the Taliban do their part, we will do ours, and conclude the agreement we have been working on," the US envoy wrote.
In its statement, the Ministry said its team had a balanced representation of political, social and ethnic groups to "talk on behalf of the Islamic republic of Afghanistan while defending values and achievements of the Afghan people".
"Afghanistan is fully committed to a lasting, dignified and just peace and (has) proven its commitment to peace in the past five years," it said. The government said it valued state-to-state strategic relations with regional and world countries, particularly counting the ties between Afghanistan and the US as "more important".
Earlier, the government had announced that its negotiations with Taliban will began in two weeks in a European country. The US and Taliban negotiators have till now held seven rounds of peace talks and are reportedly closer to an agreement on withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
The Taliban has so far refused to hold talks with representatives of the government, which it says is a puppet with strings tied to Washington. However, the militant group softened its approach recently, saying its leader will be holding talks with a joint Afghan negation team in which besides other political groups, representatives of the government will also take part as one of the political sides.