Pakistan says US troop withdrawal 'step forward' in Afghan peace effort

AFP , Saturday 22 Dec 2018

Pakistan on Saturday welcomed President Donald Trump's decision to slash US troop numbers in Afghanistan, calling it a step towards peace in the war-torn nation.

The decision to pull around half of the 14,000 American troops in Afghanistan has stunned and dismayed diplomats and officials in Kabul, and comes amid a renewed push for talks with the Taliban to end the 17-year war.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the move was "a step forward" in the peace effort.

"The US reviewed its (Afghanistan) policy and then talks were held in Abu Dhabi, then there was progress in the talks and things are moving ahead," Qureshi told reporters in the central city of Multan.

"We expect that things will move further."                                                

Qureshi added that Pakistan had released some Taliban detainees to help facilitate the peace talks and to "create an enabling environment".

There has been no official comment from the Taliban, but one of the militant group's senior commanders on Friday welcomed the decision.

The Taliban already control vast amounts of territory and are causing significant Afghan troop casualties.

The talks in Abu Dhabi earlier this week, with peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad leading the US side, were also attended by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE's state-run WAM news agency has said a new round would be held in Abu Dhabi "to complete the Afghanistan reconciliation process", without providing further details.

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