Doha: The Taliban leadership has appointed Mawlawi Abdul Hakim, the chief justice of the group, as the head of their 21-member negotiating team in Qatar ahead of the much-awaited peace talks with the Afghan government.

Sources close to the Taliban said that most of the ‘fatwas’ (rulings) of the group, particularly on war, are issued by Hakim and that he will attend the negotiating table with full authority, TOLO News reported.

Hakim was a mentor for many high-ranking Taliban members and was a close aide to Mullah Mansour, the former head of the group, according to Taliban sources.

There had been a possibility of Hakim replacing Mansour after the latter was killed in 2016, said sources.

The Taliban leadership has also appointed Mohammad Naeem Wardak as spokesman of their negotiating team.

The changes in the Taliban’s negotiating team comes as preparations for the intra-Afghan negotiations are about to be finalized.

But the issue of withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan was yet to be solved, TOLO News reported.

Meanwhile, aplanned trip by the negotiating team of Afghan government to Doha has faced a delay because of preparations still needed to be made by the host country for international partners and the Taliban, according to the State Ministry for Peace Affairs.

On Sunday, Ministry spokesperson Najia Anwari said the negotiating team is waiting for Qatar to finish preparations to host the talks.

Sources familiar with the process said problems in the Taliban’s negotiating team and the transfer of the six controversial prisoners of the group to Doha are the main reasons behind the delay in the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations that are expected this week.

According to reports, Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will attend the opening ceremony of the intra-Afghan negotiations.

Washington is yet to confirm Pompeo’s participation in the event.

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Indo-Asian News Service or IANS is a private Indian news agency. The IANS was founded by Indian American publisher Gopal Raju as the India Abroad News Service. It was later renamed the Indo-Asian News Service

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