'Intra-Afghan' Talks Under Way In Moscow Amid Continuing Violence

The writer is a member faculty of contemporary studies at NDU Islamabad and can be reached

President Donald Trump told Americans on Tuesday his administration had accelerated talks for a political settlement in Afghanistan and would be able to reduce US troops there as negotiations advance to end America's longest war.

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, head of the Taliban delegation in Moscow, also contradicted Hanafi's earlier comments on an American withdrawal saying no date had yet been fixed.

The Taliban's refusal to meet with the Afghan government is seen as a major stumbling block to lasting peace in the country, which has been at war for four decades - almost two of which involving United States and Afghan forces against the Taliban.

As many as 41 Afghan security force personnel were killed and 15 others injured in attacks by Taliban militants at security check-posts in the country's Kunduz and Baghlan provinces, officials said on Tuesday. US forces in 2001 toppled the country's hardline Taliban leaders for harboring the al Qaeda militants responsible for the September 11 attacks.

A more involved role for Moscow has surprised many, mostly due to Russia's bloody history in Afghanistan (when it was the Soviet Union) during its occupation of the country from 1979 to 1989.

At least 28 security personnel have been killed and 20 others wounded in a Taliban attack in northern Kunduz province, an official said on Tuesday.

He said US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad consulted the Afghan government about his meeting last month with the Taliban and that the Afghan government was fully aware of what was happening at the US-Taliban meetings.

Amrullah Saleh, a Ghani ally, accused those Afghan leaders travelling to Moscow for the Taliban talks - including former president Hamid Karzai - of "begging to terrorists".

"Those who have gathered in Moscow have no executive authority". Several members of the Afghan diaspora in Russian Federation, as well as former government officials from Afghanistan, also attended.

The Taliban claimed both attacks in statements to the media.

The Taliban consider Ghani and his administration to be United States puppets, and have refused offers to talk a truce.

Ghani wants the peace process to be led and owned by his Government.

The gathering has been criticized by the office of current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

"This meeting was very successful", the black-turbaned Taliban official told reporters, flanked by the former president who was appointed after US-led forces routed the Taliban in 2001.

Mawlavai Hanafi has also claimed that the assurance regarding the pullout of half of US troops has been given by the USA side and that technical groups would be formed to work regarding a schedule for the pullout of the remaining USA forces from Afghanistan.

The Taliban said the Moscow meeting - their most significant with Afghan politicians in recent memory - would discuss the withdrawal of foreign troops, peace terms and its vision for governance. The insurgents recognize that while they may never be able to defeat the United States militarily, neither can the USA completely pacify the insurgency.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said as the talks got under way on February 5 that there were no contacts planned by the Kremlin to meet with any of the Taliban delegates.

For now, the Taliban is hesitant to sit at the same table with Afghan government officials because the insurgents view such face-to-face talks as giving Ghani concessions ahead of the presidential election this northern summer.

The top U.S. diplomat also emphasised the importance of an intra-Afghan dialogue and the role of a ceasefire in ending the violence and creating the conditions for his government, the official added. Pompeo also emphasised the importance of an intra-Afghan dialogue and the inclusion of the Afghan government in peace talks with the Taliban, according to Palladino. "No one can decide without the consent of the Afghan people", Ghani told Afghan broadcaster TOLOnews.

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