Taliban to meet anti-govt leaders in Moscow

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On Tuesday, senior Afghan officials, including former President Hamid Karzai, met with Taliban representatives in Moscow weeks after the insurgents met with United States representatives to discuss an end to the war.

But they came a day after U.S. President Donald Trump told Americans his administration had accelerated talks for a political settlement in Afghanistan and would be able to reduce U.S. troops there as negotiations advance to end America's longest war.

In the run up to the talks, which follow after last month's negotiations between the USA and Taliban, Afghan women in particular have raised concerns over their rights in the event of a peace accord being reached.

Instead, the Taliban chose to sit with the Afghan president's biggest rivals - among them former Afghan President Hamid Karzai who has been campaigning hard for more Russian involvement in Afghanistan.

The Moscow Talks are expected to run over two days, and have for the first time brought together dozens of Afghan politicians and at least 10 Taliban members - with the focus being on peace.

The Russian Embassy in Kabul issued a statement late on Saturday on behalf of the "Afghan Society of Russia". The government of President Ashraf Ghani is boycotting the talks, however, having rejected the Taliban's key condition for peace: that all foreign troops have to leave Afghanistan.

The marathon negotiations ended with both sides touting "progress" - spurring Afghan fears the USA could cut a deal with the militants to withdraw its forces before a lasting peace with Kabul is reached. The Taliban closed girls' schools and banned women from working under their regime, but have indicated they could loosen some guidelines in line with Sharia law.

This did not stop some prominent Afghan politicians, such as Mohammad Mohaqiq, deputy to the government's chief executive, from attending the intra-Afghan talks, but they did so in an independent capacity.

Ghani and de facto prime minister Abdullah Abdullah have urged the Taliban to negotiate with Kabul, saying all Afghans should agree on the need for peace and a troop withdrawal. "It has been imported from the West and is an obstacle to peace", said Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who headed the Taliban delegation.

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The project provides women with practical and emotional support, including expert advice and crisis care to hot showers and lunch. The Duchess of Sussex watched the proceedings from the balcony of a separate window outside the Cenotaph war memorial.

Former president Hamid Karzai threw weight behind the ongoing talks between the Taliban and United States envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

"It is responsibility of all the Afghans to end foreign invasion", Stanekzai said, adding, "War has been imposed on the Afghan nation and the Islamic Emirate as their country has been invaded and the invaders have toppled an Islamic sovereign system".

Ghani's administration shunned the February 5-6 Russian-hosted initiative, which came after the USA announced it was close to reaching a framework agreement with the Taliban on ending the 18-year Afghan war, including on the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Mr Stanikzai said the Taliban had decided in Moscow to meet Afghan political figures who had "manpower" on the ground.

Now the exact timetable for the pullout must be decided, but the Taliban wants to see this happen in months, he said.

President Ghani and his allies campaign for an "Afghan-led and Afghan-owned" peace process, in which the government plays a central role by engaging directly with the Taliban.

The meeting in Moscow is separate from the US-Taliban peace talks. "It is a good start", said Muhammad Ghulam Jalal, the head of an Afghan diaspora group who hosted the meeting.

"If you guys can eat together, laugh and pray together, hug each other why you are still killing innocent Afghans?" one Facebook user posted.

A top U.S. general said Kabul must be involved in talks if the push for a peace deal is to be successful.

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