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Afghan President Faces Pushback After Naming Members To Reconciliation Council

FILE: Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai (L), Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Former Jihadi commanders Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and Abdullah Abdullah.

KABUL -- Abdullah Abdullah, the former chief executive officer of Afghanistan's unity government, said President Ashraf Ghani doesn’t have the authority to appoint people to the body tasked with leading peace talks with the Taliban, raising questions about how quickly those negotiations can progress.

Abdullah said on August 31 in a statement that based on an agreement he reached with Ghani earlier in the year, the president can not issue decrees naming people to the High Council for National Reconciliation.

“Consultations about the formation of the council continue with political and civil society leaders and it will conclude soon,” Abdullah said in the statement.

Ghani on August 29 published the names of people he appointed to the High Council for National Reconciliation, which Abdullah chairs.

Ghani named more than 40 individuals, including current and former officials, leaders of political parties, and renowned religious leaders to the council.

Former mujahedin leaders Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, as well as civil-society activist Safia Sediqqi and eight other women were among those chosen.

Former President Hamid Karzai was also named, but he rejected the appointment in a statement on August 30, saying he did not want to be part of any government structure.

The High Council for National Reconciliation is to oversee a 21-member negotiating team appointed by Ghani in March to conduct face-to-face talks with the Taliban.

The talks are part of an agreement reached between the militants and the United States in February in an effort to end nearly 19 years of war in Afghanistan.

On August 26, the Taliban announced it had formed a new 20-member department responsible for Taliban representation at both the intra-Afghan talks and further negotiations with the United States.

The beginning of the planned peace talks has faced some serious challenges, including the issue of the release of prisoners.

The internationally recognized government in Kabul has recently reversed a decision to release the last 320 Taliban prisoners it is holding until the insurgents free more captured soldiers.

“The Taliban will have to release our commandos held by them before the government resumes the release of the remaining 320 Taliban prisoners,” Javid Faisal, spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council, tweeted on August 29.

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