Afghan regime frozen out of Moscow peace talks with the Taliban

Afghan security personnel patrol in the city of Ghazni province west of Kabul Afghanistan. A Taliban assault on Ghazni a key city linking areas of Taliban influence barely 75 miles from Kabul has killed about 100 Afghan policemen

"Peace talks with the Taliban continue, but (the Defense Department) has not received a directive to change the force structure in Afghanistan", he said.

Taliban's Hanafi said Washington and the Taliban had also agreed that all foreign troops would eventually leave, and that Afghanistan would never be used as a base for attacks on the United States.

USA negotiators have tried to persuade the Taliban to meet Afghan officials, but Mr Stanikzai remained vague when questioned about the circumstances under which they would ever agree to do so. "We are hopeful that we will achieve that goal, which is peace forever in Afghanistan", he added.

Ghani's allies in Washington insist Afghans should lead the peace process, and ostensibly the months-long push by the USA to engage the Taliban has been aimed at convincing them to negotiate with the government in Kabul.

In his testimony, General Votel said that Pakistan has taken positive steps to assist Special US Representative of Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in support of Afghanistan reconciliation by facilitating talks with the Taliban. Two and a half million Afghans were martyred for the cause of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and it is a (matter of) principle for all of us.

"The Taliban said they are ready to sever ties with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and this is a good development", Ghani said.

A week later, the Taliban agreed to a rare sit-down in Russian Federation with some of Ghani's biggest political rivals.

In December, a USA official said Trump was planning to withdraw more than 5,000 US troops in Afghanistan, triggering worries about whether a smaller force would be able to fulfill missions under way and stabilize the country.

Frozen out for a second time, a furious Ghani, however, vowed he would not be an idle spectator as his country's future was debated overseas. "It was a sort of conference - every body was exchanging their own views regarding peace".

The frustration and sense of betrayal in Kabul is palpable.

But the talks, being held over two days in a hotel maintained by the Russian government, included no representatives of President Ashraf Ghani's government, inviting fierce criticism from the USA -backed Afghan leader. "A smile to the enemy is a blow to the national spirit", Saleh said.

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Kamilov said Uzbekistan "is ready to create all necessary conditions to organise direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban movement in its territory at any stage of the peace process".

Fourth, there must be reconciliation between the government and the Taliban, which now refuses to directly engage.

Instead, the insurgents are marching ahead with their diplomatic agenda.

Mr Stanikzai, who until recently was the head of the Taliban's political office in Qatar and remains a leading figure in the group, spoke to the BBC while attending a meeting in Moscow with a number of senior Afghan opposition politicians.

The Taliban, responding to Trump's speech, rejected any suggestion of a lingering US focus on counter-terrorism after troops are drawn down, reiterating their long-held demand that all foreign troops get out.

Ghani's rivals could see an opportunity in these various Taliban talks to undermine his leadership, analysts say, ahead of presidential elections slated for July.

But Pentagon spokesman Army Colonel Rob Manning said the United States military had received no orders to begin withdrawing.

The head of the delegation, who is in Russian Federation for talks between Taliban and opposition politicians, was quoted as saying no agreement had been reached with Washington on a timeframe for a troop pullout, but that he hoped it would happen soon.

The Taliban governed Afghanistan in 1996-2001 with an ultra-conservative and often brutal interpretation of Islamic law.

As a state possessing nuclear weapons that sits at the nexus of Russian, Chinese, Indian, Iranian, and U.S. geopolitical interests, Pakistan will always be a country of importance to the USA, he noted.

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