Taliban: Half of USA troops to leave Afghanistan by May 1

Americans now want less to do in region says scholar Vali Nasr at Adab Festival

President Donald Trump told Americans on Tuesday his administration had accelerated talks for a political settlement in Afghanistan and would be able to reduce USA troops there as negotiations advance to end America's longest war. He said Afghanistan wants good relations with all countries but will not allow anyone to interfere in Afghan affairs.

Ghani said he had spoken late on Tuesday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who stressed the importance of "ensuring the centrality of the Afghan government in the peace process". For example, in Moscow, members of the militia said they wanted an "inclusive Islamic system" in Afghanistan with a new constitution, while they also listened to Afghan women's rights activists.

Russian state media mostly downplayed the event's significance, with TASS reporting only that the Kremlin "had no planned meetings with the Taliban". It is in the interests of the Afghan people as a whole that they should be included and heard, and their fundamental rights recognised. Both Abdullah and Atmar are running in the presidential elections scheduled for July against Ghani.

Khalilzad and the Taliban say they made significant progress in the Doha talks and have come close to a deal on withdrawal of USA -led foreign forces from Afghanistan.

"Peace is more hard than war", Mr Stanikzai added, alluding to the difficulties in reaching a settlement.

The Taliban, who brutally ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, has always refused to break bread with Ghani and Kabul, who they view as USA stooges.

"There's something surreal about Afghanistan's most powerful opposition politicians meeting with the Taliban in order to spark an intra-Afghan dialogue that doesn't include the country's own government", analyst Michael Kugelman of the Wilson Center in Washington told AFP.

Several delegates urged the Taliban to start talks with the government and also declare ceasefire in view of the peace talks in Qatar. In Moscow, they were not even invited to the gathering.

This week the Taliban sent a delegation of 10 to talks underway in Moscow with dozens of prominent Afghan opposition figures, including former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Ghani enjoyed strong support from Washington when he took office in 2014.

They argue that Ghani seeks to spoil this rare opening for peace and that his resistance derives from a fear that if talks progress, he could lose his chance for five more years in power.

"Part of the Taliban's approach here is, 'We are not against talking to Afghans... we don't want to talk to the Kabul government because they aren't in a position to negotiate".

Taliban officials have used the extraordinary exposure at the Moscow talks to detail their vision of Afghanistan after a USA troop withdrawal.

The Moscow meeting undermines the progress the USA has made during the talks in Qatar with the insurgent group, and highlights Russia's growing influence in Afghanistan.

Unlike Moscow's landmark peace talks with the Taliban in November, no members of the Russian government - or any other government - were at Tuesday's meeting, although the Afghan organizers live in Moscow and have ties to Russian authorities.

Since being appointed in September last, Khalilzad has met with all sides in an attempt to end America's longest war in which the United States has lost over 2,400 soldiers in more than 17 years. "They are just puppets to the US", Weinbaum added.

Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, speaks during a press conference in Kabul.

But Pakistan "has avoided taking any concrete or irreversible steps such as arresting or expelling Taliban leaders who do not cooperate with reconciliation efforts", he said.

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

"We both agreed that words, rumors, and speculations can not replace actions and that our partnership and resolve will remain strong in the pursuit of peace", Ghani tweeted.

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