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Nicholson reveals secret talks with Taliban to broker ceasefire

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AT-KABUL: U.S. top commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson revealed on Wednesday some secret talks were undergoing between Taliban factions and the Afghan government to broker a ceasefire amid intensifying violence.

Nicholson told Pentagon reporters via a teleconference from Kabul that President Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy had negotiations intensified and levels of violence decreased by 30 percent. “I call this talking and fighting. We’ve seen this in other conflicts, such as Colombia, where the two sides were talking about peace at the same time that they were fighting each other on the battlefield,” he said.

Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid spurned Gen. Nicholson’s claim. He said: “Gen. Nicholson’s claim regarding the Taliban’s contact is far from truth. The Islamic Emirate position regarding negotiation repeated several times and it is not hidden and covert.”

However, Nicholson insisted that clandestine dialogue were taking momentum with the Taliban although they had not yet formally responded to President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of peace talks. Gen. Nicholson claimed some secret meetings had taken place between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders. “A lot of diplomatic activity and dialogue is occurring off the stage.”

“A number of channels of dialogue have opened up between the various stakeholders in the peace process,” continued Nicholson, who said names were kept confidential to improve the chances of reaching official negotiations.

The outgoing NATO commander said that violence in Afghanistan between February and April had dropped by 30 percent below the five-year average.