Afghan government negotiators holding peace talks with the Taliban charged Tuesday their opponents had been avoiding formal engagement for more than a week, an accusation the insurgents denied.
The two sides have been meeting in the Qatari capital Doha since September in a US-backed effort to contain the violence in their country, but the negotiations have already been interrupted by several long pauses.
"Peace and ending the violence are our people and government's top priority," tweeted Afghan government negotiator Nader Nadery.
"To achieve this noble goal, the (government) peace negotiation team is committed and present in Doha."
His message added that no formal meetings had been held for nine days and said "the other side is not willing to engage in talks to end the conflict and save lives".
The Taliban rejected the suggestion they were putting off direct, formal engagement with the government side.
"Reports that the intra-Afghan talks have been delayed indefinitely are false, and the two teams are in touch with each other," said the spokesman for the Taliban's Doha office, Mohammad Naeem.
"No negotiations can be continuous and happening on a daily basis, since there may also be need for internal meetings."
- 'Further pressure' -
Afghan government negotiators are pushing for a permanent ceasefire and to protect governance arrangements in place since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban in a US-led invasion following the September 11 attacks that year.
The talks have however been marred from the start by an increase in violence, and the country has seen a recent spate of high-profile targeted killings of officials, activists and journalists.
The negotiations follow a landmark foreign troop withdrawal deal signed in February 2020 by the insurgents and Washington.
The US agreed to withdraw all foreign forces within 14 months, in exchange for security guarantees and a Taliban pledge to hold talks with Kabul.
President Joe Biden's administration has however signalled it will review the US deal with the Taliban, including whether the insurgents have reduced attacks in keeping with the agreement.
Negotiators from Kabul and the Taliban in early December decided to take a weeks-long break after months of often frustrating meetings bogged down by disputes on the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations.
Since the talks reconvened in January, the Taliban team have held numerous meetings with other groups, including with Iranian officials in Tehran, and with the former Indonesian vice president in Doha.
An Afghan government source close to the talks told AFP: "It seems they want to buy time and put further pressure on us.
"They want not to engage in meaningful talks for a future political settlement so the May deadline comes and they believe the US will withdraw, and they can take over entirely, which is a false hope."