Taliban not serious about peace, says acting prime minister
The Taliban have shown no signs they are serious about peace despite US efforts to end the 17-year insurgency, the country's de facto prime minister told AFP.
Abdullah Abdullah, who serves as "chief executive" of the unity government in Kabul, told AFP that he was not optimistic about the planned peace deal with the Taliban, despite the more positive opinion of his political rival, President Ashraf Ghani.
The president said earlier this month that it was "not a question of if, but when" an agreement would be reached with the Taliban.
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad meanwhile said he hoped peace could be achieved with the Taliban by next April's presidential elections.
This is not an opinion shared by Abdullah, who is a veteran fighter against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and later the Taliban.
"Recently there are renewed efforts in terms of the international community and especially the US," Abdullah told AFP in Paris.
"We are not judging it too prematurely, but I would say that our experience as of now has been that they (the Taliban) have not shown any intention to get seriously engaged in the peace negotiations," he added.
This appears to be an opinion shared by the Taliban, which downplayed talk of a breakthrough in talks.
On Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed 55 people at a banquet hall when religious leaders marked the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.
Afghan security are struggling to battle the Taliban, who control around half of the country, while the Islamic State group have stepped up attacks on civilians in the country.
US officials and the Taliban have held talks in Qatar, in a bid to end the war before the April elections, which has been downplayed by Abdullah.
"My idea is to stick to the timing, make it work, because it's part of the system and legitimacy of the system depends on the elections," he said. "At the same time, continue the efforts on peace with full vigour."
"It will be very surprising if that happens, but should it happen ... that would be welcomed by the people of Afghanistan," he added.
Abdullah has twice run for president in 2009 and 2014 in campaigns that ended bitterly amid accusations of fraud.
After being beaten in 2014 by Ghani, Abdullah agreed to become prime minister of the unity government in a US-brokered deal - but the rivalry between the two men continues.
"I will actively be involved one way or another, but I have not made that final decision," Abdullah said when asked if he would run in 2019.