Race For Deals: Karzai-Led Delegation In Russia Holds Talks With The Taliban

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“The Americans, like the British Empire in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th century, seem to have realized that the first major war of the 21st century is no longer sustainable.”

PKONWEB Report (Islamabad) — First photos of the delegation of Afghan politicians, led by former president Karzai, headed to Moscow Tuesday evening to meet with the Taliban. Their trip goes on despite vehement opposition from the Afghanistan government led by President Ashraf Ghani.

The Taliban demanded a new constitution for Afghanistan and promised an “inclusive Islamic system” to govern the war-torn country at the rare gathering with senior Afghan politicians in Russia–the talks excluded the Kabul government.

In recent days, the United States and the Taliban reportedly agreed to a framework for a potential deal – one that could involve the Taliban denying space to international terror groups and to provide the Americans a face-saving exit from Afghanistan.

Though U.S. and Taliban representatives have met numerous times over the years, this marks the first time they have reached a framework agreement.

The Karzai-led talks with the Taliban in Moscow comes a week after the Taliban held unprecedented six-day talks with US negotiators in Doha about ending the 17-year war.

The Doha and Moscow discussions, though entirely separate, both excluded the government in Kabul, where President Ashraf Ghani is seen as increasingly sidelined from key negotiations for peace in his country.

According Michael Kugelman, a Washington-based South Asia analyst, “Trump will likely claim success in Taliban talks-but Russia is trying to pull the rug out from under him.”

“Trump suggests that the success of US military power forced the Taliban to the negotiating table. That is some magical thinking for the ages. In fact, the failure of US military power forced the US to the negotiating table. #Afghanistan,” Kugelman tweeted on the talks.

The Moscow meeting — the Taliban’s most significant with Afghan politicians in recent memory — saw the insurgents praying together with sworn enemies including former president Hamid Karzai as they discussed their vision for the future.

“The Kabul government constitution is invalid. It has been imported from the West and is an obstacle to peace,” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who headed the Taliban delegation, told attendees at a central Moscow hotel.

“It is conflicted. We want an Islamic constitution,” he said, adding that the new charter would be drafted by Islamic scholars.

In the six days of talks between the US and the Taliban in January, both sides touted “progress” — stoking Afghan fears that America could cut a deal to withdraw its troops before a lasting peace with Kabul is reached.

“I think all sides are ready for a compromise. It is a good start,” said Muhammad Ghulam Jalal, the head of an Afghan diaspora group who hosted the meeting.

But images of Karzai and other powerful leaders attending prayer lead by a Taliban figure and dining with the militants invoked anger in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Pakistan military has accelerated border fencing–a $550 million unilateral undertaking, as US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan looms. The Pak army move comes in anticipation of a “terrorism spillover” ahead of the anticipated U.S. troop withdrawal from the war-torn country, which prompted Pakistan to accelerate its efforts at securing the border.

Trump said on Thursday he would bring U.S. troops home if a peace deal was reached to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan that has cost American taxpayers nearly $1 trillion and Pakistan more than $230 billion in economic losses.

He told CBS he would be open to keeping a small number of troops there as well as intelligence operations to monitor for “nests” of militant activity, according to the interview taped on Friday.

A day earlier on Thursday, the Senate delivered a rare rebuke to President Trump’s foreign policy, warning against a “precipitous withdrawal” of American forces from Afghanistan and Syria.

Forty-three Republicans and 25 Democrats voted in favor of the resolution.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky suggested a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan could lead to more attacks on U.S. soil. And Pakistan remains concerned of political vacuum in its war-ravaged western neighborhood and “terrorism spillover” from Afghanistan where the presence of SIS still poses regional threat.

According to a Pakistani defense analyst, the Americans, like the British Empire in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th century, seem to have realized that the first major war of the 21st century is no longer sustainable.

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