Despite disagreements, Moscow talks were ‘very successful’, says Taliban

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

A senior Taliban official told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday that the United States had vowed to withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by April.

The Pentagon has reportedly prepared plans to withdraw half its 14,000 troops by the summer.

On an April withdrawal, he said: "It's our desire".

He also said that the time of the USA troop withdrawal from Afghanistan was not fixed yet and that negotiations on the matter were in progress.

A USA general told a Senate hearing shortly before Ghani's interview was broadcast that the talks were in their early stages and the Afghan government would have to be part of any negotiated solution. "Everything" must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire".

"We have no orders to withdraw".

A Taliban official said on Wednesday that no timetable had been agreed with the US government for the partial withdrawal of USA forces from Afghanistan, and that negotiations were still underway.

Mr Stanikzai told the BBC he believed the Trump administration wanted to "bring peace to Afghanistan".

The rigid insurgent stance also forced Washington to exclude Ghani's government from talks between USA and Taliban officials seeking a political resolution to the conflict.

A Taliban official said on Wednesday the United States had promised to withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of April, the RIA news agency reported, but Washington said no time-frame had been set.

The Afghan Women's Network said their rights should not be used as a "political tool" in dealings with the Taliban, who barred women from schools and jobs and drastically curtailed their personal liberties when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

"At the first step, we want all the foreign forces to leave and end the military presence in our country", said Sohail Shahin, a spokesman for a Taliban office in Qatar. They have gone to Moscow, but the point is what will they say in Moscow.

Karzai appeared to try to deflect Ghani's criticism of the Moscow meeting tweeting: "We understand that the government in Kabul needs to be a part of these negotiations".

The Taliban control almost half of Afghanistan, and are more powerful than at any time since the 2001 US-led invasion after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Russian government has publicly distanced itself from the talks, but according to reports Russian envoy to Kabul Zamir Kabulov is behind the initiative.

Karzai said the main issue under discussion in Moscow was that Afghanistan should be free of foreign forces, adding that there was a near consensus on this matter.

Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai made a rare appearance in front of global media.

But the lengthy statement also warned that, "Under the name of women [sic] rights, there has been work for immorality, indecency and circulation of non-Islamic cultures".

But involvement of the Taliban in any government frightens many women, who recall the stifling restrictions under the Islamic insurgents. They oppose civil society, disdain women activists & want to curtail women's individual freedoms.

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his second State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. February 5, 2019.

The Afghan president - who has vented frustration as his friends and enemies have negotiated the future of his country - describing the Moscow talks as "nothing more than fantasy".

She, however, said "we need to make sure everything they say here, they mean it".

The talks were problematic, at the very least, for the government in Kabul, as they show how utterly powerless the Afghan central government is.

Their military partnership was "unwavering" and would remain until a lasting and inclusive peace was achieved, he said.

In an interview to Tolo News before the Moscow talks, President Ghani said the Afghan politicians participating in Moscow talks lack "negotiating authority".

"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.

2014: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ends combat operations in Afghanistan.

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