Afghan leader speaks with Pompeo amid fresh peace efforts

Afghan leader speaks with Pompeo amid fresh peace efforts

Officials in Kabul have suggested the discussions in Russian Federation are an attempt by political rivals to undermine the Afghan government, and explore a potential deal with the Taliban without their input.

The Taliban, which has a delegation in Moscow for talks, said on Wednesday that the United States vowed during recent talks with it to pull out half of its troops from Afghanistan by April, the RIA news agency reported.

But Ghani has vented frustration at being relegated to the wings as his political enemies shared prayers and meals with the Taliban while discussing the future of his country.

The Taliban, responding to Trump's speech, rejected any suggestion of a lingering USA focus on counter-terrorism after troops are drawn down, reiterating their long-held demand that all foreign troops get out.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, centre, speaks to USA peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, third left, at the presidential palace in Kabul.

The US State Department, however, said no timeline has been set for possible US troop drawdown in Afghanistan.

Delegates arrive to attend a two-day gathering of the Taliban and Afghan opposition representatives at the President Hotel in Moscow on February 5, 2019. On the one hand, Moscow will burnish its credentials as a major player and mediator in the region; on the other hand, the USA withdrawal will increase the risks of instability and violence in Central Asia, which lies in Moscow's sphere of influence.

The Taliban control almost half of Afghanistan, and are more powerful than at any time since the 2001 US-led invasion after the 9/11 terror attacks.

While Moscow has sought to distance itself from the conference, calling it an initiative of the Afghan diasporas, few doubt the Kremlin's deep involvement.

"They could hold a hundred such meetings, but until the Afghan government, the Afghan parliament and the legal institutions of Afghanistan approve it, it is just agreements on paper", Ghani said.

Ghani's allies in Washington insist Afghans should lead the peace process, and ostensibly the push by the engage the Taliban has been aimed at convincing them to negotiate with Kabul.

Taliban is making "nice statements" in Moscow but back home schools for girls are closed in majority of Taliban-controlled areas Fawzia Koofi, a member of Afghan parliament and one of the two women participating in ongoing "inter-Afghan" talks in Moscow, told TRT World. "This move will further sideline Ghani and his administration", he added.

If the Taliban have any complaints, however, it is President Trump's talk during the State of the Union address of leaving behind forces for "counter-terrorism" operations. While the Afghan population is exhausted and traumatized, and the Trump administration is seeking to bring the conflict to a close as part of a campaign promise to reduce US troops overseas, the insurgents control territory that over 10 percent of the population inhabits.

The Taliban are expected to meet with United States negotiators again later in the month.

But the presence of prominent opposition politicians will add to pressure on the government to talk to the Taliban in the search for a deal to end years of fighting.

Stanikzai further demanded the removal of Western sanctions and travel bans on Taliban members, prisoner releases, an end to "propaganda" against the Taliban and clearance to open an official office. "It will continue in the future with the hope that it can bring peace one day to Afghanistan". Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall.

Debate: What future for Afghanistan without USA troops?

However, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, leader of the Taliban delegation, was less specific in terms of timings.

"The Taliban are dancing to different songs at the same time".

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