Afghanistan is scheduled on April 29 to convene a rare Loya Jirga -- a traditional gathering of elders, religious scholars, and prominent Afghans -- with more than 2,000 people from across the country having been invited to discuss U.S.-led peace efforts.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s Special Envoy Omar Daudzai said on April 28 that the Loya Jirga will provide the ground for “intra-Afghan talks” with the Taliban.
Several high-ranking officials, including Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, have refused to participate in the four-day gathering. Abdullah boycotted the Loya Jirga on the grounds that his team had not been consulted prior to the decision to hold the assembly.
Daudzai said negotiations are under way to convince Abdullah and others to attend the Loya Jirga, which would lay out the government's negotiating position for future talks with the Taliban.
On April 27, Ghani held a meeting with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is trying to find a peaceful resolution to the 17-year war.
"Both sides once again emphasized an intra-Afghan dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban, led by the Afghan government," Ghani’s office said in a statement.
The comments came a day after the United States, Russia, and China said in a joint statement that they have agreed on the goal of withdrawing foreign forces from Afghanistan and to seek an "inclusive Afghan-led" peace process.
Khalilzad has been engaged in a series of talks with the Taliban in Qatar as he looks to bring the extremist group into peace negotiations with the government in Kabul.
Taliban negotiators have so far refused to negotiate with the government, calling it a puppet of the West, and have insisted on the withdrawal of foreign forces before talks with Kabul can begin.
Khalilzad is on a multination tour of the region and is scheduled to visit Qatar -- the usual site for negotiations with representatives of the Taliban militants.
The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led mission, known as Resolute Support, that is training and assisting the Afghan government's security forces in their battle against Taliban fighters and extremist groups such as Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
With reporting by tolonews.com, AFP, AP, and Reuters