Afghan peace summit agreed but without official government presence

The summit, held in Doha and co-sponsored by Germany, will come after a Kabul attack that wounded dozens of children

In this Monday, Feb. 25, 2019 photo released by Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Special Envoy of the Qatar Foreign Minister for Counterterrorism and Mediation in conflicts resolution, Dr. Mutlaq Bin Majid Al-Qahtanithe, is the mediator of talks between the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Deputy Commander of the Taliban Movement for Political Affairs, Mulla Abdul Ghani Berader, right, in an undisclosed place in Doha, Qatar. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met with one of the founders of the Taliban for the first time on Monday ahead of the latest round of talks with the insurgents aimed at ending the 17-year war in Afghanistan. (Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs via AP)
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A peace summit on the years-long war in Afghanistan has been agreed for July 7 and 8, but no official representation from the government in Kabul will be present.

The gathering between the Taliban and Afghans in their personal capacity will take place in Doha, and will be co-sponsored by Germany. The Taliban has continuously refused to meet the Afghan government, accusing it of being a puppet of the West.

Germany's special representative Ambassador Markus Potzel said in a statement on Tuesday that those attending "will participate only in their personal capacity and on an equal footing".

A joint German-Qatari statement released by the German Foreign Office said that both Berlin and Doha hope "this event will contribute to trust-building among key stakeholders, representing a wide spectrum of the Afghan people and society".

The militant group has offered to meet  the opposition and ordinary Afghans, and has held two meetings in Russia with prominent Afghan politicians such as former president Hamid Karzai.

The announced talks come just a day after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a devastating attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul that killed at least six people and wounded more than 100 others, many of them children attending two schools in the area, according to the education ministry in Kabul.

Monday's attack occurred at the height of morning rush hour. It began with a powerful car bomb and lasted nearly 10 hours as five gunmen holed up in a high-rise building fired into a nearby defence ministry building, which the militants said was the target of the attack. Police eventually killed all five attackers.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned Monday's attack, saying the Taliban "wanted to continue this war".

However, he has not responded to the announcement of next week's talks. He has previously demanded the Taliban talk directly with his government, some of whom have complained about their continuing exclusion from meetings between Taliban and the US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

Mr Khalilzad, who is holding a seventh round of direct talks with the Taliban in Doha, already held a battery of meetings with the Afghan president in Kabul last month. In an overnight tweet, he welcomed the announced all-Afghan talks. He tweeted that "this dialogue is an essential element of the four-part peace framework & and important step in advancing the (hash)AfghanPeaceProcess."

Following the attack, Washington made no move to interrupt its seventh round of talks with the Taliban in Doha that started on Saturday.

"Once the timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces is set in the presence of international observers, then we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government," tweeted Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman for the Taliban's office in Qatar.

Under a peace deal, the United States plans to pull its roughly 14,000 troops from Afghanistan.

In return, the Taliban would provide assurances that they will never allow their territory to be a base for foreign attacks - the primary reason for the US invasion nearly 18 years ago.