Afghan troops killed in Taliban attack on military base

The writer is a member faculty of contemporary studies at NDU Islamabad and can be reached

The writer is a member faculty of contemporary studies at NDU Islamabad and can be reached

The raid on the base in northern Kunduz province came as representatives of the Taliban were to hold meetings in Moscow with prominent Afghan figures, including former President Hamid Karzai, opposition leaders and tribal elders - but not Kabul government officials.

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

"The process here in Russian Federation will further strengthen the negotiation of Khalilzad, and it's much more effective and fruitful to have it in this region", said former Balkh province governor Atta Mohammad Noor, who is challenging Ghani in elections planned for July.

It comes as broader peace talks involving the Taliban's political office in the Qatari capital, Doha, appear to be gaining momentum, despite the Taliban's continued refusal to meet directly with Afghan government representatives.

"We are fighting only for freedom of Afghanistan and just to remove the foreign forces from Afghanistan", Stanikzai told RT's Maria Finoshina on Tuesday. "We will bring peace in our country, we have no other agenda".

The Taliban demanded a new constitution for Afghanistan and promised an "inclusive Islamic system" to govern the war-torn country at a rare gathering with senior Afghan politicians in Russian Federation on Tuesday that excluded the Kabul government.

The Moscow meeting undermines the progress the United States has made during the talks in Qatar with the insurgent group, and highlights Russia's growing influence in Afghanistan.

"We appreciate the efforts, but any peace talks about Afghanistan should be under the umbrella of the Afghan government", Afghanistan's de facto prime minister Abdullah Abdullah said after the Doha talks. Former Afghan President Karzai is one such figure who has transformed into a USA critic in recent years and has pushed for more Russian influence in Afghan politics.

"A dynamic generation is working in Afghanistan and these are great achievements and we must defend them".

"Rest assured that no one can push us aside", he said.

Ghani's call to Pompeo seemed an attempt to re-assert his government's role in negotiations he has sharply criticized at times as one-sided.

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"They could hold a hundred such meetings, but until the Afghan government, the Afghan parliament and the legal institutions of Afghanistan approve it, it is just agreements on paper", Ghani said.

Trump said on Tuesday his administration had accelerated talks for a political settlement in Afghanistan and would be able to reduce US troops there as negotiations advanced to end America's longest war.

Since being appointed in September last, Khalilzad has met with all sides in an attempt to end America's longest war in which the USA has lost over 2,400 soldiers in more than 17 years.

Ghani's administration shunned the February 5-6 Russian-hosted initiative, which came after the US 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.

In a lengthy interview with the privately owned ToloNews TV, Ghani denounced the ongoing Moscow meeting, arguing the attendees did not have the executive power to translate decisions into action.

The Moscow talks are officially being organised by members of the Afghan diaspora.

Taliban's chief negotiator said they do not intend to monopolize power after an end to foreign invasion but want to establish an Afghan inclusive Islamic system with the consent of all Afghans.

"The atmosphere of the talks (on the first day) was very constructive", said Mohammad Mohaqiq, the second deputy of CEO Abdullah Abdullah. He said Afghanistan wants good relations with all countries but will not allow anyone to interfere in Afghan affairs.

In a separate attack in neighbouring Baghlan province, Taliban militants stormed an isolated check-post of the Afghan local police at 2 a.m.

The talks opened as at least 21 people were killed in the latest Taliban attacks in several locations across the country.

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