FILE - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 15, 2018.
FILE - Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a press conference at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 15, 2018.

Rahim Gul Sarwan of VOA's Afghan service contributed to this report. 
 
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Zalmay Khalilzad, chief U.S. negotiator with the Taliban, emphasized the importance of an intra-Afghan dialogue in a meeting Saturday evening between the two in Kabul.  
 
A statement released by Ghani's office also called for "a future direct meeting with the Taliban led by the Afghan government."  

FILE - Special Representative for Afghanistan Reco
FILE - Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad speaks on the prospects for peace, Feb. 8, 2019, at the U.S. Institute of Peace, in Washington.

The Taliban have been negotiating directly with Khalilzad and his team since last September but have so far refused to include the Afghan government in that process or to engage with the government in any official capacity. 
 
The insurgent group participated in an "intra-Afghan" conference in Moscow in February, which included dozens of Afghan politicians and other stakeholders, on the condition that Ghani's administration would not be invited.   
 
Under intense pressure from several regional countries and the United States, the Taliban agreed to include some officials from the Ghani administration in the next intra-Afghan conference on the condition the officials participate in their personal capacity. 
 
The conference, scheduled for April 20-21, was canceled at the last minute because the Taliban said the government was insisting its delegates were official representatives of the Kabul regime.  

'Bizarre meetings'
 
"Just as all the arrangements for the conference were finalized, the Kabul administration officials launched their own bizarre meetings inside the Arg palace [presidential palace], announcing their red lines and conditions, claiming host status for the conference," a statement from Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said. 
 
"Despite tireless and well-intentioned efforts of all parties, a shared understanding on how to achieve inclusivity couldn't be reached," tweeted Sultan Barakat, the director of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies that was helping organize the conference.  

This photo released by Qatar's Ministry of Foreign
FILE - This photo released by Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows Qatari, U.S. and Taliban officials conferring in an undisclosed place in Doha, Feb. 25, 2019, ahead of the latest round of talks with the insurgents aimed at ending the Afghan war.

Khalilzad is on his seventh trip to the region to continue his diplomacy to try to find a negotiated end to the Afghan conflict. He has held five direct meetings with the Taliban since September, and he is expected to hold another during this trip. His last meeting in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban maintain an unofficial political office, lasted 16 days. The one before that continued for eight days.  
 
Both sides have decided in principle the U.S. will withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, and in return, the Taliban will ensure that Afghan soil is not used by any terrorist group to carry out activities against any other country. However, details remain unsettled, and Khalilzad repeatedly has said "nothing is agreed to unless everything is agreed to," including a cease-fire in Afghanistan and inclusion of the Afghan government in the negotiations —demands the Taliban have resisted.  
 
Meanwhile, former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has asked Ghani to delay the Loya Jirga, or grand assembly of Afghans, scheduled for Monday, saying it might slow down the negotiations with the Taliban. Karzai had initially welcomed the initiative to convene a Loya Jirga when Ghani announced it in February.

"The jirga should be convened once the peace process reaches a milestone," Karzai said in a statement issued through his political office. "At that time, the jirga should be conveyed to sign off on the developments."  

Members of the Loya Jirga, grand council, attend d
FILE - Members of the Loya Jirga, or grand council, attend during the last day of the session, in Kabul, Nov. 24, 2013.

Thousands of delegates from around the country already have arrived in Kabul to participate in the event, which is expected to last several days. Of the 3,000 expected delegates, at least 30 percent will be women.  

Lack of consensus
 
Karzai's statement also said the jirga did not have the requisite consensus that was traditionally accorded to such gatherings in Afghan culture. Even the Unity government, the statement pointed out, was not on the same page. 
 
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah is boycotting the jirga, saying his office was not properly consulted in the planning and the delegate election process was not transparent.  
 
Abdullah is one of 12 presidential candidates boycotting the jirga. Analysts say other candidates fear Ghani might use this assembly to gain political mileage ahead of the election, set for Sept. 28.
 
Ghani and his spokespeople say the objective of the gathering of Afghans was to prepare for an eventual negotiation with the Taliban, and for the people to decide the boundaries the government should respect.   
 
"Even if the U.S. makes a deal with the Taliban to have peace in Afghanistan, the responsibility for implementing that deal will fall on the Afghan government," said Ziaul Haq Amarkhel, a senior adviser to Ghani. 
 
On Thursday, Khalilzad met with his Russian and Chinese counterparts in Moscow to discuss the Afghan peace process. 
 
"The three sides encourage the Afghan Taliban to participate in peace talks with a broad representative Afghan delegation that includes the government as soon as possible," said a joint statement issued at the end of the meeting.