Top Russian diplomat meets Taliban, encourages USA withdrawal

Afghan National Army prepare for an operation against insurgents in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province

Afghan National Army prepare for an operation against insurgents in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province

Zalmay Khalilzad, the USA envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, said Friday that he and Taliban negotiators have struck an agreement, in principle, which could pave the way for at least some American servicemembers to exit Afghanistan, where they've been fighting for 17 years.

Khalilzad, who returned to the USA from nearly a month-long peace mission to South Asia and the Middle East, said on Friday that he had discussed conditions for the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan with the Taliban, but there had been no agreement on this issue yet, Dawn news reported.

"It will be better for Afghanistan if we could get a peace agreement before the election, which is scheduled in July", Mr Khalilzad said, adding that there remained "a lot of work" to do.

"We have tried to develop a long agenda of issues that must be addressed".

Pakistan's role in the peace negotiations is a delicate one, with Islamabad seeking to avoid demonstrating the kind of broad influence over the Taliban that Washington has long accused it of having.

This comes as the Taliban group has so far rejected to meet or hold talks with the Afghan government officials. "Initially, we have focused on two issues, one on the issue of counter terrorism and the other the issue of us forced withdrawal", he said.

"That is a red line, and I think that's a policy of the (US) president as well".

"I would be wary of taking that and extrapolating off that and saying they're now on board with the peace process", said Jason Campbell, who was the Pentagon's Afghanistan country director until previous year and is now at the RAND Corporation think tank.

The talks come as US President Donald Trump pushes to end the Afghanistan conflict, where about 14,000 US troops are still deployed and which has seen countless thousands of civilian and military deaths, as well as an infusion of more than $1 trillion in US cash into the country.

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The sides agreed on an assurance to the worldwide community that Afghanistan would not be used as a terror base against any other nation, and that women had the right to education and work in line with Islamic principles.

"We will not just rely on people's words", he said, adding that there would have to be "enforcement mechanisms", which he did not define.

Mujahid said that while the Taliban do not have a codified manifesto, their "clear" objectives were the end of the occupation of Afghanistan, establishment of an Islamic government, establishment of peace and security, reconstruction of Afghanistan and the provision of administrative services.

A statement issued on behalf of all parties also agreed on the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. He added: "Nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to".

"Pakistan favours inter-Afghan dialogue including between the Taliban and the government".

Getting American troops out of Afghanistan, where they have been either fighting the Taliban or advising Afghan government forces since October 2001, is the top priority for the Taliban officials he has talked with, Khalilzad said.

"The timing of a peace settlement from our point of view is the sooner is better", Mr Khalilzad said.

Sources said that Pakistan's foreign ministry has made the final preparations regarding the expected visit of Khalilzad and the final date will be announced within a few days.

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