Taliban official: Half of United States troops to leave Afghanistan by May 1

Taliban official: Half of United States troops to leave Afghanistan by May 1

The renewed fighting coincides with a two-day round of peace talks now underway in Moscow between Taliban representatives and several Afghan officials, who are not affiliated with the Kabul government.

The Doha and Moscow talks, though entirely separate, both excluded the government in Kabul, where Ghani has expressed anger at being increasingly sidelined from key peace negotiations.

Abdullah Abdullah, the country's chief executive, said Monday that the Afghan government should be at the centre of any peace talks, adding that Kabul "would prefer the Moscow meeting had a different shape".

Decades after the Soviet Union's disastrous venture into Afghanistan, Russia is emerging as a major player in the region with ties to the Taliban and Afghan politicians as USA troops withdraw from the country.

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.

Still, Fawzia Koofi, a lawmaker and women's rights activist, said her participation in the talks was a good first step, even though she was one of only two women among the more than 20 Afghan figures who travelled from Kabul to Russian Federation.

In a statement ahead of the Moscow meet, the network said they would not accept peace at the cost of their freedoms and urged delegates to defend the rights of half of Afghanistan's 35 million people.

The United States has downplayed Taliban claims that America will withdraw half of its troops from Afghanistan by April.

The marathon negotiations ended with both sides touting "progress" - spurring Afghan fears the U.S. could cut a deal with the militants to withdraw its forces before a lasting peace with Kabul is reached.

The insurgents indicated they could loosen some guidelines around women - in line with Sharia law - extending even to female representation in parliament.

The US, Afghanistan and India seek a stable democracy and a bulwark against terrorism, he said. President Ashraf Ghani insists that a final agreement must protect the inalienable rights and values of Afghans.

"I think that unless, and until, they're [the Taliban] willing to talk directly with the Afghan government, it's going to be very hard for the USA, as much as it is angling to get out of Afghanistan as soon as possible".

Their current chief negotiator, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, painted a picture of the group's current view of the role of women in society, rejected the current Afghan constitution and called for the end of United States presence in Afghanistan.

There was no immediate reaction from the Pentagon or the U.S. Department of State to the comments from a member of a Taliban delegation visiting Moscow.

Ghani also questioned the mechanism of the Moscow Talks and said: "With whom, what will they agree upon there?"

At least 36 members of the Afghan security forces and 22 Taliban fighters have been killed in fresh clashes in the country's north, officials and local media confirmed Tuesday.

Nur said the talks, which stretched into late evening on Tuesday, will continue on Wednesday and possibly even on Thursday. It has brought together Taliban representatives and prominent Afghan figures.

Many of these present "a fundamental clash of vision and interests" for Afghanistan, said Davood Moradian, director of the Kabul-based Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies.

The Moscow conference is the Taliban's most significant engagement with Afghan leaders in recent memory - and unique for the militants who banned television when they ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. "Let hundreds of such meetings be held, but these would only be paper (agreements) unless there is an agreement by the Afghan government; Afghanistan's national assembly and Afghanistan's legal institutions".

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