The Afghan government says it will send 250 delegates for talks with the Taliban in Qatar this week that are seen as a potential breakthrough in efforts to end the nearly 18-year war.
The delegates that will attend the talks scheduled for April 19-21 include government officials, powerful former warlords, opposition politicians, tribal and religious leaders, women, and representatives from civil society and the media.
It will be the first time Afghan government officials and Taliban representatives meet since failed peace talks held in Pakistan in 2015.
“The list of the Afghan government for the Doha conference, which includes members introduced by political parties, independent political figures, and relevant institutions and represents all layers of Afghan society, was finalized today,” President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri said on April 16.
The list was criticized by some powerful opposition figures, including the powerful former warlord, Atta Mohammad Noor, who said it was not inclusive.
The three days of talks in the Qatari capital, Doha come amid a push by the United States for a peace settlement with the Taliban.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy seeking a peace deal with the Taliban, has held several rounds of talks with the militants in Qatar in recent months, and a new round of meetings are scheduled later this month.
The Taliban long refused to speak officially with Kabul, calling the government a “puppet” of the West.
Omar Daudzai, Ghani’s peace envoy, has said the Afghan delegation will go to Doha to “exchange views with the Taliban.”
The Taliban said those government officials attending the Doha talks will only “participate in a personal capacity.”
Taliban officials met a delegation of powerful Afghan power brokers in Moscow in February, but those talks did not include members of Ghani’s government.
Those talks marked the most significant contact between senior Afghan political figures and the militant group since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.