Afghan leader speaks with Pompeo amid fresh peace efforts

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The discussions in Moscow came two weeks after Taliban and American diplomats announced significant progress in six days of negotiations in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban maintain an office.

"We have not agreed to any timeline for a possible drawdown of troops and are not going to get into any other specific details of diplomatic conversations", the spokesperson said in a statement.

The Taliban's refusal to meet with the Afghan government is seen as a major stumbling block to lasting peace in the country, which has been at war for four decades - almost two of which involving United States and Afghan forces against the Taliban. "We are hopeful that we will achieve that goal, which is peace forever in Afghanistan", he added.

The rare public appearance that kicked off a day before saw Taliban officials spell out their vision for Afghanistan in front of rolling cameras and a host of political heavyweights, including former president Hamid Karzai.

Although it is a good omen that the Taliban are taking part in intra-Afghan talks, the question remains: If the government in Kabul is not directly involved, do the talks, or for that matter, the government, have any legitimacy?

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Donald Trump said the USA has been holding constructive talks with a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban. If the United States continues to show that it is in a hurry to leave Afghanistan, then the Taliban would be more than happy to wait them out. It is in the interests of the Afghan people as a whole that they should be included and heard, and their fundamental rights recognised.

That's less true for the current government's leadership, which has been condemning the talks for not including President Ghani.

"This meeting was very successful", the black-turbaned Taliban official told reporters, flanked by the former president who was appointed after US-led forces routed the Taliban in 2001. The quid pro quo for the Taliban to officially and finally break ties with al-Qaeda and its affiliates could be the withdrawal of American soldiers.

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USA -led forces in 2001 toppled the hardline Taliban for harboring the al Qaeda militants responsible for the September 11 attacks.

"They can go to school, they can go to universities, they can work", he added. "Dissemination of western and non-Afghan and non-Islamic drama serials, paving way for immoral crimes, and encouraging women for violating Afghan customs are other instances that have been imposed on Afghan society under the name of women rights".

The Taliban's statement in Moscow is clearly meant to dispel the memories of women being beaten and murdered under its brutal theocratic rule, as well as forced into burqas and barred from leaving their homes without a male relative as escort. "But if that does not happen, they still want to have the Russian option open which has now brought them closer to Ghani's biggest opponents".

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his second State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. February 5, 2019.

Speaking to Afghan TV channel TOLOnews, President Ghani said: "Those who have gathered in Moscow have no executive authority".

"When Mr. Karzai returns from Moscow we will see what he has brought".

Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan MP and one of only two women present at the Moscow meeting, called it a "positive step that the Taliban who were using bullets against the people, especially women, were now... listening to women's voices".

"We both agreed that words, rumors, and speculations can not replace actions and that our partnership and resolve will remain strong in the pursuit of peace", Ghani tweeted.