Ambassador Khalilzad, is delegitimizing the Afghan government-says Afghan official

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A senior Afghan official has accused the U.S. special envoy to his country, Zalmay Khalilzad, of “delegitimizing” the Kabul government by excluding it from peace negotiations with the Taliban.

The comments on March 14 by Hamdullah Mohib, who serves as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s national-security adviser, drew immediate rebuke from Washington, with the State Department saying that his remarks “only serve to hinder” U.S.-Afghan ties and the peace process.

Speaking during a news conference at the Afghan Embassy in Washington, Mohib, a former ambassador to Washington, directed his attacks at Khalilzad’s conduct of peace talks with the Taliban.

Kabul has been excluded from the talks, held in Qatar, because the Taliban refuses direct negotiations with the Afghan government, insisting it is a puppet of the West and demanding that foreign troops pull out of the country before bilateral talks can begin.

U.S. officials have insisted they will not accept a peace deal with the Taliban without direct talks between the militant group and the Afghan government.

Kabul in the past has expressed anger over being kept out of the talks, but public comments targeting the top U.S. negotiator are extremely rare. Officials were angered again this week when Khalilzad wrapped up the latest round of Taliban talks in Doha and returned directly to Washington without stopping to brief officials in Kabul.

“We think either, Ambassador Khalilzad, doesn’t know how to negotiate [or] there may be other reasons behind what he’s doing,” Mohib added.

“The Taliban are in no mood to negotiate with the Afghan government, and there is no reason for them to do so. They’re gaining. Their sole aim and expectation and reasons in wanting to talk directly with the United States is to give themselves legitimacy.”

“The reason he is delegitimizing the Afghan government and weakening it, and at the same time elevating the Taliban can only have one approach. It’s definitely not for peace,” he said.

Robert Palladino, the State Department’s deputy spokesman, said David Hale, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, “summoned” Mohib and told him he rejected the attack on “the U.S. approach to reconciliation.”

Palladino said Hale reminded the Afghan official that Khalilzad represented Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “and that attacks on Ambassador Khalilzad are attacks on the department and only serve to hinder the bilateral relationship and the peace process.”