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By Dan De Luce
A top Afghan government official on Thursday blasted the Trump administration peace talks with the Taliban, an American president accuses the envoy of closing the Kabul government and betraying the relationship with a close relative.
"We don't know what's going on. We don't have the kind of transparency we should have," Hamdullah Mohib, Afghan National Security Adviser, told reporters during a visit to Washington.
Asked whether President Donald Trump's Afghanistan Envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, advised the Afghan government on his talks with the Taliban rebels, Mohib said: "No, we get bits and pieces."
He added, "The last people to find out are us."
The Afghan security forces' commander was deeply concerned about the situation, Mohib said.
"How should I convince them that they will not be sold out?"
The Afghan government was asked to send a negotiating team to the recent negotiations in the United Arab Emirates to participate in possible three-way talks between the Taliban, the United States and the Kabul representatives, he said. But Afghan representatives were reduced to waiting in hotel lobbies and were not properly informed by the US delegation, according to Mohib, who served as Afghan ambassador to the United States until returning to Kabul last year.
"It was a humiliation for the Afghan government," he said.
His extraordinary criticism revealed a bitter division between the two countries at a time when the Trump administration is pushing hard to mediate at the end of the 17-year war and allowing US troops to withdraw. US lawmakers from both parties and some former US diplomats have warned against a swift negotiation with the Taliban, which could correspond to a US surrender.
The Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has previously spoken of the risk of moving too quickly to cut an agreement with the Taliban and warned Washington not to sideline his government in the negotiations. But his national security adviser went one step further and accused Washington of selling Afghanistan and questioning the motives of Trump's Afghan-born envoy.
"We believe there may be personal ambitions because of lack of information," Mohib said.
Khalilzad has been considered a possible presidential candidate in Afghanistan earlier and has held talks with opposition Afghan political figures in Kabul, he said.
"The view in Afghanistan thinks that people in the government think maybe, perhaps this whole talk is about creating a vice-government, of which he will then become viceroy," Mohib said.
An official in the state who was not authorized to speak at the post dismissed the allegations.
"Mr. Mohib's comments are inaccurate and inappropriate and we will respond to them privately today," the official said. His remarks in no way reflect the high level of US and Afghan coordination on all issues involving peace in Afghanistan. "It is crucial that the Afghans take the opportunity for peace."
In a press release from the state department, spokesman Robert Palladino said that Mohib's comments could not justify a public response.
But he said the US remains in close consultation with President Ashraf Ghani and other senior officials that Khalilzad has paid frequent visits to Kabul to hold talks with Afghan leaders, and that the US ambassador to Afghanistan and his team are in contact with Ghani about "a near daily basis."
"There is a lack of coordination," Palladino said.
He later offered a statement on a Thursday afternoon meeting between David Hale, State Secretary for Political Affairs and Mohib.
Hale recalled Mohib that Khalilzad represents the Secretary of State, and "that attacks on Ambassador Khalilzad are attacks on the department and only serve to prevent the bilateral relationship and the peace process," Palladino said in a statement.
A White House National Security Council official dismissed Mohib's comments and said the United States appreciates its long-standing relationship with Afghanistan.
"We fight shoulder-to-shoulder with Afghan security forces to stabilize the country and defeat the terrorist threats, and at the same time, we work together to end the war," the official said in an email.
"We recognize that for any peace clause to be sustainable, the Taliban must engage with the Afghan government and other Afghan stakeholders to establish a political roadmap for Afghanistan's future."
Considering that Khalilzad enjoys the full support of the administration in his role as an envoy, Mohib's fierce criticism could end up complicating the Afghan government's relationship with Washington, a former senior US diplomat, Laurel Miller, said.
"These remarks involve a dangerous misleading political and political environment in Washington. No one here doubts that Khalilzad is an authorized dealer representing US interests." Important to find a way to swim with the tide not against "Miller said in a tweet.
Khalilzad and other US officials have repeatedly said that the administration has consulted with the Afghan government during talks with the Taliban and is seeking to create conditions for direct talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban.
But sources familiar with the negotiations say Khalilad's team has pushed Ghani to engage more with opposition leaders to create a broader peace negotiation team and believe that the Afghan president has grown in isolation politically.
On Tuesday, Khalilzad wrapped up another round of talks with the Taliban in Doha and said they had clinched a draft agreement on two key issues – withdrawal of US troops and the obligation of the rebels to break the ties with al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups.
"Clearly, all sides want to end the war. Despite up and down, we kept things on the right track and made real progress," Khalilzad tweeted.
He also said that "nothing has been agreed until everything is agreed."
Trump has made it clear that he would like to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan, and his desire to end the US military presence has led to a diplomatic proxy press to end the war.
But Mohib said the Afghan government was skeptical of public statements from the US or Pakistan that the negotiations had made progress.
"We like to hear that progress is happening. But what is it?" Said Mohib. "Our understanding is if there is an agreement, it's a bad deal."
Taliban leaders have long refused to face face talks with the Afghan government as they portray as a puppet in the United States. They have also insisted that the United States first accept to withdraw its troops before other problems can be resolved.
The number of US troops in Afghanistan is fluctuating, but the Pentagon says about 14,000 are currently on the ground, advising Afghan forces and performing counter-terrorist operations against al-Qaeda or Islamic state fighters.
Mohib said whether the US wants to withdraw its troops, the administration could discuss this directly with the Afghan government under a bilateral agreement between the two countries.
By holding extended talks with the Taliban, Washington taught his ally while lent credibility to an opponent who had claimed thousands of Americans and Afghans' lives, he said.
"We're told that Ambassador Khalilzad is a great diplomat and he knows what he's doing. I'm not sure I'm buying it." He radiates, alienates a very trusted ally and partner, "he said.
Although Khalilzad is officially the US Envoy for "Reconciliation", Mohib said: "He does not unite. He alienates."