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Taliban says US ‘serious’on Afghan withdrawal

KABUL: The Taliban’s top negotiator says the Americans are serious about withdrawing from Afghanistan, thereby caving to a longstanding demand of the militant group.

“I think the US is very serious about withdrawing troops from Afghanistan,” said Sher Abbas Stanikzai, who led the Taliban at peace negotiations with the United States in Qatar.

“I am hopeful that US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad will play a key role in the Afghan peace process,” he said in a video message released by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

Stanikzai was recently replaced by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar as head of Taliban’s political office in Qatar. Now Baradar, the Taliban’s deputy chief, will lead the peace talks.

Stanikzai lamented President Ashraf Ghani for not having the power to decide on keeping foreign troops in Afghanistan or asking them to quit the country. “It is up to the Americans to decide either to leave or to stay in Afghanistan.”

Taliban’s envoys think Khalilzad was more powerful than the previous US negotiators they had interacted with.

In response to a request from Khalilzad, Baradar was freed by Pakistan in October to facilitate the peace process. He had been detained in Karachi in 2010.

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