Russia offers to facilitate U.S.-Taliban talks on troop withdrawal
CGTN
01:17

Russia is ready to help the United States advance its negotiations with the Taliban on withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, the RIA news agency cited Russia's Foreign Ministry as saying on Thursday.

The comments came after a two-day meeting between the Taliban and prominent Afghan figures in Moscow. The Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani was not invited to the gathering.

A Taliban official at the talks said no timetable had been agreed with the U.S. government for the partial withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, and that negotiations were underway.

"It was very successful and we agreed on many points," said Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, head of the Taliban delegation. "American army – we are in negotiations with the American side and we are trying that the American forces should go out as soon as possible."

Representatives attend Afghan peace talks in Moscow, Russia, February 6, 2019. /VCG Photo

Representatives attend Afghan peace talks in Moscow, Russia, February 6, 2019. /VCG Photo

No involvement by Afghan government

The talks were billed as an intra-Afghan peace process to help end decades of war. But Ghani said there could be no peace without an agreement with the government, the national assembly and legal institutions.

It was the second time Ghani's government was frozen out of such talks in recent weeks, after the U.S. held entirely separate discussions with the insurgents in Doha without Kabul.

"At future meetings we will surely request that the government attend at a higher level," former Afghan National Security Advisor Mohammed Hanif Atmar said on the sidelines of the meeting.

"Taliban will start negotiation with the Afghan government in next summit soon. It's great progress," Abdul Satar Saadat, Afghan president's former legal advisor and former chairman of Afghan Independent Electoral Complaints Commission tweeted earlier on the day.

Head of Political Office of the Taliban Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai attends the Afghan peace talks in Moscow, Russia, February 6, 2019. /VCG Photo

Head of Political Office of the Taliban Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai attends the Afghan peace talks in Moscow, Russia, February 6, 2019. /VCG Photo

The Taliban has long refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, which they say is a U.S. puppet.

The extraordinary gathering in Moscow saw Taliban leaders stand shoulder-to-shoulder with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who called the insurgents his "brothers" as both sides agreed to seek lasting peace.

Karzai reiterated visions of peace, stability, and an Afghanistan "free of foreign forces" and "free of intervention from any side".

The Afghan government has not reacted to the outcome of the meeting so far, but earlier in the week Ghani said the politicians attending the Moscow talks had no executive power and were not officially representing the country.

U.S. troops keep watch during an official visit in Farah Province, Afghanistan, May 19, 2018. /VCG Photo

U.S. troops keep watch during an official visit in Farah Province, Afghanistan, May 19, 2018. /VCG Photo

Doubts over Afghanistan's future

After 17 years, countless civilian and military deaths, and more than 1 trillion U.S. dollars in cash, President Donald Trump has declared that "it's time" to end the Afghanistan war. 

Touting talks with the Taliban, Trump in his State of the Union address on Tuesday said "the hour has come to at least try for peace" and close out America's longest conflict.

"Our troops have fought with unmatched valor," Trump said. "Thanks to their bravery, we are now able to pursue a possible political solution to this long and bloody conflict."

But critics warn against a precipitous pullout and Trump's seeming willingness to take the Taliban at their word in ongoing talks that have so far snubbed Ghani.

Shadi Khan Saif, a journalist and analyst covering war on terror in Afghanistan for more than 10 years, also cast some doubt to the talks in an interview with CGTN.

03:02

"The problem with the timing of these talks is that they are happening at a time when the country of Afghanistan is passing through the so-called transitional state building. Abandoning this process on the part of the U.S. can simply jeopardize the future of Afghanistan," he said.

During his telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday, Ghani said he was assured that "military unity" would exist between the United States and Afghanistan, until a lasting peace is restored in Afghanistan.

Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani is in Washington for talks with senior U.S. officials on Thursday.

(With inputs from agencies)

(Cover: Former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai (C) and other representatives attend a press briefing after the Afghan peace talks in Moscow, Russia, February 6, 2019. /VCG Photo)

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