United States seeking peace agreement in Afghanistan: Khalilzad

Afghan National Army prepare for an operation against insurgents in Khogyani district of Nangarhar province

He said that Pakistan should avoid both, appeasing the Taliban or capitulating its stance on Afghanistan under external pressure.

"The real significance of Moscow, in my view, is that it has somewhat isolated the Afghan government", said Richard Olson, a former special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan for the United States. "The Global Terrorism Index said Afghanistan accounted for a quarter of all the world's deaths from terrorism in 2017, and that the Taliban was responsible for hundreds of attacks during the year".

The Afghan Taliban has said that despite the ongoing talks with the United States and other regional powers, it had "not yet reached" any conclusion that would entail an immediate end to hostilities against America and its allies, according to a media report.

"They made it clear to us that we (Taliban) have to talk to the USA and Afghan government", the Taliban leader said.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad denied this assertion, tweeting: "I've heard some Taliban officials claim we have a troop withdrawal timetable for Afghanistan".

The Afghan government, which was not invited in last week's Moscow talks, slammed Russian Federation for allowing the United Nations blacklisted Taliban members to take part in the talks. "I would be wary of taking that and extrapolating off that and saying they're now on board with the peace process", said Jason Campbell, who was the Pentagon's Afghanistan country director until past year and is now at the RAND Corporation think-tank.

Pictures of the conference showed Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, the head of the Taliban delegation, standing shoulder to shoulder with Karzai and other Afghan leaders, many of them Ghani's political rivals.

Speaking after Reuters reported the shift, Khalilzad confirmed at a forum in Washington that "there is a positive change in recent times" by Islamabad.

President Ghani's anger about the meeting was obvious from various statements, in which he called it an academic exercise by those with "no executive authority".

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"That is a red line, and I think that's a policy of the (US) president as well". Some believe the chances the USA would reverse direction and return to Afghanistan are unlikely at best.

Mr Khalilzad has in recent months held multiple meetings with Taliban officials in Qatar, where the group's senior leaders have an office in the capital Doha.

Khalilzad said he has pressed the Taliban to agree to a permanent cease-fire as a step toward ending the war, but they have resisted, arguing that it would remove their leverage and reduce the Afghan government's incentive to make concessions in direct negotiations.

Afghan political analyst Mushtaq Rahim said there was a backlash in Afghan civil society against those who attended. The problem is that so far it has led more of a parallel process than a helpful process because the Afghan government has not been at these Moscow-led talks.

"For Moscow, its initiative represents an effort to get closer to the elusive intra-Afghan dialogue that all sides keep talking about", said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center research organization.

"If there is no progress on the peace track, elections will take place, and we are doing what we can to support the preparations for credible elections", he added.

On the heels of negotiations with the U.S.in Doha, Qatar, from January 21 through January 26, Taliban leaders met with a Russian delegation for two days in Moscow earlier this week.

Islamabad, running short of foreign exchange reserves and in talks with the International Monetary Fund over what would be its 13th bailout since the 1980s, says it can not afford to see Afghanistan slide into chaos just as Pakistan is trying to attract foreign investors to shore up its own economy. He also clarified that the Taliban's negotiators agreed to the condition, but not its leadership.

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