Foreign forces must exit Afghanistan for peace: Taliban
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Foreign forces must exit Afghanistan for peace: Taliban

The Taliban delegation, led by chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, met a group of top Afghan politicians, including former president Hamid Karzai and candidates challenging President Ashraf Ghani in a presidential election slated for September, in the Russian capital of Moscow on Tuesday. The Taliban group “wants peace, but the first step is to remove obstacles to peace. The obstacle is the occupation of Afghanistan, and that should end,” said Baradar, insisting that the militant group would only sign a deal after foreign forces quit Afghanistan. The US and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001 over the claim that the then-Taliban regime was harboring al-Qaeda terrorists, responsible for the 9/11 attacks inside the US. The Taliban’s five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end following the invasion; however, 18 years on, Washington is seeking truce with the militants, who still control large swathes of land in the volatile country and carry out deadly attacks on government troops and civilians alike. The talks do not include the incumbent Afghan government, which the Taliban say they do not recognize. The Taliban have for months been talking to US diplomats about the terms of a withdrawal of more than 23,000 American troops. However, Washington has refused to agree to a pullout until the Taliban put in place security guarantees, a truce, and other commitments, including “intra-Afghan” dialog with Kabul and other Afghan representatives. A sixth round of talks between the US and Taliban ended in the Qatari capital, Doha, with no tangible progress. President Ghani recently announced a government offensive, dubbed Operation Khalid, against the militant group. The Taliban and the group of Afghan politicians that met in Moscow had been invited by Kremlin to attend a two-day conference to mark the centennial anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Afghanistan. Moscow appears to be gaining influence in the ongoing process. Last month, the US announced that Washington had reached a consensus with China and Russia on the key formula for a peace deal it is negotiating in Afghanistan. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who opened the Tuesday meeting, said Russia and Afghanistan have “a shared aim — fighting terrorism,” and reiterated that Moscow supports a complete pullout of foreign forces.

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