Is Peace with the Taliban Possible?

Americans now want less to do in region says scholar Vali Nasr at Adab Festival

The renewed fighting coincides with a two-day round of peace talks now underway in Moscow between Taliban representatives and several Afghan officials, who are not affiliated with the Kabul government.

Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who headed the Taliban delegation, made a rare appearance in front of global media besides a smiling Karzai.

The Moscow talks also were expected to be attended by delegates from Afghan diasporas from the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Europe, as well as representatives from Iran and Pakistan.Afghanistan's chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, said the Afghan government should be at the center of any peace talks, adding that Kabul "would prefer the Moscow meeting had a different shape".

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 timeframe had been set. This latest development has further isolated the Kabul government in peace negotiations.

Mr Stanikzai addressed the meeting in a hotel in Moscow, saying the group did not want "a monopoly of power" - but that Afghanistan's constitution had been "imported from the West" and was an "obstacle to peace".

Inamuddin Rahmani, Kunduz police spokesperson, claimed that the security forces had foiled the attack in which 22 Taliban fighters were killed and 18 wounded. The meeting, to be held in a Moscow hotel, was organised by Afghan refugees living in Russian Federation, it said.

This week the Taliban sent a delegation of 10 to talks underway in Moscow with dozens of prominent Afghan opposition figures, including former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"No power in the country can dissolve the government", said Ghani, who added he was ready to "stand and defend our country".

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The Taliban's statement in Moscow is clearly meant to dispel the memories of women being beaten and murdered under its brutal theocratic rule, as well as forced into burqas and barred from leaving their homes without a male relative as escort.

The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 as a reaction to the 9/11 terror attacks, with the mission lasting until December 28, 2014. Ghani said that Pompeo also "underscored the central importance of ensuring the centrality of the Afghan government in the peace process" and signaled support for holding Afghan presidential elections in July. Among those present was the first US-backed president Hamid Karzai.

Even as the US has pursued diplomacy with the Taliban vis-à-vis the Qataris, Russia has been conducting its own diplomatic overtures, putting together a diplomatic conference in Moscow in November 2018 that brought together members of the Afghan government's High Peace Council, as well as Taliban delegates, and representatives from regional power brokers, including Islamabad, Tehran and Beijing.

Ghani's representatives were not welcomed by the Taliban to Qatar, where the insurgents held talks with United States representatives for six days in January alone.

In addition, the meeting in the Russian capital is a victory for the Kremlin, according to Weinbaum.

"We understand that the government needs to be part of these negotiations".

Karzai and other Afghan leaders were confident that the Moscow siting will pave the way for start of an intra-Afghan dialogue.

"Only they will be able to resolve the key issues involved in the dispute". "But if it does so without a ceasefire and some kind of discussions between the Taliban and the government in Kabul, it's going to look too much like we [the US] sold them out", Weinbaum told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.

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