‘Talks with Taliban’ enter day 2

The Taliban entered a second day of unprecedented talks on Wednesday with powerful Afghan politicians in Moscow, sidestepping the Kabul government.

The rare public appearance that kicked off a day before saw Taliban officials spell out their vision for Afghanistan in front of rolling cameras and a host of political heavyweights, including former President Hamid Karzai. No government official was invited, despite Mr. Ghani’s offers to talk peace, underscoring the Taliban’s hostility towards the increasingly marginalised Kabul administration.

Ending fighting

The Moscow meet comes a week after the Taliban held separate talks towards ending fighting with American negotiators in Doha.

The Taliban claimed on Wednesday that the U.S. agreed in Doha to withdraw half its ground troops by the end of April — and the process had begun. “The Americans agreed to withdraw half of their troops immediately. The withdrawal will start from February 1 and continue until end of April,” said Abdul Salam Hanefi, deputy head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha. But U.S. negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad has stressed that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. ‘Everything’ must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire”.

The U.S. has issued no details on any potential withdrawal plan.

Mr. Ghani spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late on Tuesday, who had “underscored the central importance of ensuring the centrality of the Afghan government in the peace process”, the President said.

“The Moscow meeting is nothing more than a fantasy. No one can decide without the consent of the Afghan people,” Mr. Ghani told TOLOnews. “Those who have gathered in Moscow have no executive authority. They can say what they want, but who are they representing?”