Taliban says United States promised to halve its troops in Afghanistan by April

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

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

Abdullah Abdullah, the country's chief executive, said Monday that the Afghan government should be at the center of any peace talks, adding that Kabul "would prefer the Moscow meeting had a different shape".

Head of the Taliban delegation described the talks as fruitful.

But the USA special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who led the U.S. side at the talks in Doha, Qatar, has repeatedly stressed that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed".

President Ashraf Ghani has repeatedly called on the Taliban to begin direct negotiations with his representatives, but so far the group has refused, dismissing them as puppets of the US.

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.

According to reports, the Taliban indicated that they want to amend the current Afghan constitution which they see as invalid and import of the West.

Afghan women, also largely excluded from the table, fear seeing their hard-won rights eroded if negotiators seek a hasty truce with the Taliban.

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Instead, the group's representatives have held meetings with U.S. officials in Qatar, during which they have agreed to not let terrorist outfits operating on Afghan soil to pose a threat to the U.S., in return for American troops' withdrawal from the South Asian country.

Afghan security forces gather at the site a day after an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan.

A United States official said in December that Trump was planning to withdraw more than 5,000, or more than a third, of the 14,000 USA troops in Afghanistan.

"We look to regional actors such as Pakistan to cease behaviour undermining regional stability and play constructive role in achieving peace in Afghanistan as well as the whole of South Asia", General Votel told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"No one can decide without the consent of the Afghan people", Ghani told Afghan broadcaster TOLOnews. He said there was a near-consensus in the talks on this subject.

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.

Earlier Tuesday, Afghan officials reported two more Taliban attacks that left 21 people dead, including 11 policemen killed when the insurgents stormed a checkpoint in northern Baghlan province's Baghlani Markazi district.

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The venue of the talks indicates an expanding role in Afghanistan for Moscow.

With both sides hailing progress in talks in Qatar last month, US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is due to meet Taliban representatives there again on February 25.

Another important factor that Kakar ignores is Trump's signature "America First" foreign policy, as he writes that "It appears the U.S. is presently only concerned about itself, rather than the people of Afghanistan and other states which have a stake in the country".

Robert Palladino, deputy spokesman at the State Department, said Pompeo reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to achieving a lasting peace.

Taliban official Abdul Salam Hanafi, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting in Moscow between the Taliban and other prominent Afghan figures, said that US officials promised the pullout will begin this month.

Serenko also said Moscow used this week's conference to legitimize its long-held ties with the Taliban, which Russian Federation still designates as a terrorist group. He did not mention the Afghans who have died (24,000 civilians since 2009, and 45,000 members of the security forces in the last five years), let alone the nation's broader suffering in the world's deadliest conflict.

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