Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
February 6, 2019
Taliban representatives and an Afghan delegation led by former President Hamid Karzai have entered the second and final day of talks in Moscow, with the militants continuing to insist upon the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan as a first step in the peace process.
The talks have been described by some as part of an “intra-Afghan” peace process — despite the absence of Kabul government representatives.
The gathering has been criticized by the office of current Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
It comes as broader peace talks involving the Taliban’s political office in the Qatari capital, Doha, appear to be gaining momentum, despite the Taliban’s continued refusal to meet directly with Afghan government representatives.
President Donald Trump during his State of the Union address on February 6 described those talks as “constructive” and voiced cautious hope for a negotiated end to America’s longest war.
The Taliban on February 6 claimed that Washington agreed during a recent round of talks in Doha to withdraw half its ground troops by the end of April — saying that the process had begun.
“The Americans agreed to withdraw half of their troops immediately. The withdrawal will start from February 1 and continue until the end of April,” Abdul Salam Hanefi, deputy head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, told reporters in Moscow.
A second Taliban representative present in Moscow, Sohail Shahin, said, “At the first step, we want all the foreign forces to leave and end the military presence in our country.”
But Washington has issued no details on any potential withdrawal plan, and U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has repeatedly said that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. ‘Everything’ must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive cease-fire.”
General Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, also said that the Afghan government must be involved in talks if a push for a peace deal is to be successful.
“Ultimately, we need to get to a Taliban-Afghanistan discussion,” Votel told U.S. lawmakers on February 5. “Only they will be able to resolve the key issues involved in the dispute.”
Ghani spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late on February 6. Pompeo “underscored the central importance of ensuring the centrality of the Afghan government in the peace process,” Ghani said.
The Moscow meeting is “nothing more than a fantasy. No one can decide without the consent of the Afghan people,” Ghani separately told Afghan broadcaster TOLOnews.
“Those who have gathered in Moscow have no executive authority. They can say what they want,” the Afghan president added.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, Interfax, and TASS
Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.
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