US wants side-peace agreement between Pakistan, Afghanistan
Trump says he wants US troops out of Afghanistan by Christmas
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The US has revealed that it is seeking a side peace deal between Pakistan and Afghanistan as President Donald Trump said Wednesday he wants all US troops to leave Afghanistan by Christmas, speeding up the timeline for ending America's longest war.
"We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!" Trump wrote on Twitter.
In a February 29 agreement reached in Qatar with the Taliban, the United States promised to pull out all its troops by mid-2021 in return for insurgents' promises not to allow Afghanistan to be used by extremists.
The Taliban have since opened talks in Doha with the Afghan government, but the meetings have immediately stalled as the hardline rebels insist on their form of Islamic jurisprudence.
Trump's promise comes one month before US elections in which the president, trailing in the polls, has sought to show that he is making good on his promise to draw a close to "endless wars."
After 19 years of US military operations his stance enjoys wide support, with Democratic rival Joe Biden -- a critic during his time as vice president of further US involvement in Afghanistan -- also backing a withdrawal.
The United States first intervened in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks and dislodged the Taliban regime, which had welcomed Al-Qaeda. But in the years since the resurgent militants have launched a fresh battle to topple the US-backed government in Kabul, with civilians bearing the brunt of spiraling violence since NATO combat troops withdrew in 2014.
Trump has already reduced US forces in Afghanistan to around 8,600 and the Taliban has stood by promises not to attack Western troops -- even as the militants continue their bloody campaign against government forces.
The Taliban and Afghan government have opened slow-moving peace talks in Qatar as the United States starts withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan to end its longest-ever war.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US pointman on Afghanistan, said that both Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan and its powerful military chief, General Qamer Javed Bajwa, have been "helpful" in the diplomacy. "We are seeking an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan as an adjunct to an internal peace," Khalilzad told a forum at the University of Chicago's Pearson Institute by video from Doha.
Both countries would "agree that their territory will not be allowed to be used against the other by extremist groups or groups that would undermine the security of the other," he said.
Pakistan had hailed the February 29 agreement between the United States and the Taliban, in which Washington declared that it would "facilitate discussions" between Kabul and Islamabad.
Critics, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan's historic rival India, see Islamabad as playing both sides and say its military and intelligence apparatus has still backed Taliban violence as a way to exert influence in its neighbour.
But Khalilzad, who visited Islamabad last month, said he saw economic incentives for Pakistan, which suffers severe power shortages and could import power from electricity-rich Central Asia if the Afghan government and Taliban reach a deal. "There are economic reasons that would be transformative for the region should peace in Afghanistan come," Khalilzad said.
The upbeat tone by Khalilzad, who has tried to ensure that all key players support Afghan peace, comes after years of on-off tensions between the United States and its Cold War ally Pakistan.