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Taliban says no direct peace talks with govt in Kabul until foreign troops leave Afghanistan

Taliban says no direct peace talks with govt in Kabul until foreign troops leave Afghanistan
A senior Taliban official rejected direct talks with the US-backed central government in Kabul, saying that no inter-Afghan political negotiation is possible as long as foreign soldiers are present.

Negotiations will start only after the withdrawal of the US-led NATO mission from Afghanistan is announced, the spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, Suhail Shaheen, said.

The Taliban has held seven rounds of direct talks with US officials in Qatar’s capital, Doha since October, but refused to do the same with the government in Kabul, which it considers illegitimate.

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On Saturday, Afghanistan’s state minister for peace affairs, Abdul Salam Rahimi, said the government will be ready to sit down with the militants within the next two weeks if the Taliban accepts the offer. The talks can be hosted by a European nation, and a 15-person negotiating team is currently being formed, he said.

The US special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the inter-Afghan talks will not take place until Washington signs its “own agreement” with the Taliban.

Despite nearly two decades of the presence of US-led forces in the country, militants still control large swathes of territory, and in recent years, Kabul has been steadily losing ground to the Taliban. According to the US special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the central government had effective control over just 53.8 percent of the country’s districts in October 2018 – a significant drop from 72 percent in 2015.

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