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Our goal is to end invasion: Taliban seeks talks with US on NATO troop withdrawal

Any peace process in Afghanistan with the US boots on the ground is impossible, the Taliban delegate..

Any peace process in Afghanistan with the US boots on the ground is impossible, the Taliban delegates said after a meeting in Moscow, adding that the current Afghan government is a US puppet stalling the talks.

“We will not tolerate a single US soldier in Afghanistan,” said the head of the Taliban delegation at the international meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, adding that the insurgent groups “main goal” is to “put an end” to the 17-year-long “invasion” led by the US and its allies.

Still, Stanikzai said, the militants are ready to negotiate – but only with Washington, which they see as the real force behind the current Afghan government.

The US and Taliban did actually engage in direct talks recently, Stanikzai said, hailing it as a positive sign.

“The Americans have realized that we should solve the Afghan problems through negotiations,” he said, admitting that the talks are at the very early stages and so far amounted to “confidence-building measures.”

Alice Wells, deputy assistant secretary in the State Departments Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, was reported to have met with several Taliban officials in Doha, Qatar in July. Despite multiple media reports, the meeting was not officially confirmed by the US government, however.

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“America does want to and needs to leave Afghanistan but we need to leave the Afghan government in charge and not to let the return of Taliban,” former naval intelligence officer John Jordan told RT, adding that Afghanistan has turned into “a problem that everyone wants to solve but no one wants to own.”

The Moscow talks have been part of a separate diplomatic push aimed at “seeking ways to build an inclusive intra-Afghan dialog,” according to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who opened the meeting on Friday. He also welcomed Talibans participation in the event by saying that it is an important step towards a direct dialog between the insurgents and the Afghan government.

The Moscow format talks were a result of consultations between the diplomats from Russia, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, India and Iran and were first held in 2017. Taliban joined the talks attended by the diplomats from the six countries for the first time. The meeting was also attended by the representatives of the Afghan High Peace Council – a body affiliated with the government and tasked with finding a diplomatic solution to the Afghan crisis.

However, the High Peace Council, which did hold brief direct talks with the Taliban delegation in Moscow, did not officially represent the government, the Afghan Foreign Ministry said, but even this small rapprochement was regarded as success by all parties.

The international community wants to see a “peaceful, prosperous and independent Afghanistan free of terrorism and drugs,” Lavrov said, adding that Russia “is determined to do everything in its power” to help Afghanistan achieve this goal.

Washington still has almost 15,000 troops in Afghanistan, who are officially “advising and assisting” the forces loyal to the government in Kabul. While the Taliban outright control just four percent of Afghanistan, they are operating in 70 percent of the country.

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“That is Wales, isnt it?” Nigel Farage struggles on the campaign trail

On the European elections campaign trail, leader of the Brexit Party and eternal ballot box botherer..

On the European elections campaign trail, leader of the Brexit Party and eternal ballot box botherer Nigel Farage decided to visit the Welsh town of Merthyr Tydfil.

The only problem was, he clearly had no idea how his partys main pitch – uh, Brexit – would benefit the town at all.

Repeatedly asked by a BBC reporter what the benefits for residents would be, Farage was reduced to nothing but the grinning pinstripe he really is – at one point saying something vague about steelworks in an entirely different part of Wales.

Heres the exchange:

“Mr Farage, towns like Merthyr have received millions of pounds of regeneration money…”

“Yes.”

“This whole town centre has been funded by EU grant aid. What will Brexit offer them?”

“Lets be honest about it, its not EU money. Thats one of the great sort of myths and pretensions.”

“But Wales as a whole is a net beneficiary to the tune of £250 million pounds a year. What will Brexit offer?”

“We have so far, over the course of the last few decades given away hundreds of billions…” (more…)

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Fans reaction to Game of Thrones is a reminder that no one owes you the story you want

This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season eight.

Once upon a time, American telev..

This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season eight.

Once upon a time, American television series didnt end: they just stopped. Received wisdom was that endings made shows unattractive in syndication, the permanent repeat market which – due to the insane economics of mid-20th century TV networks – was the only point at which anything made a profit.

Quinn Martin, the producer of The Fugitive, felt the opposite was true. He fought the network and won. That seriess finale became the most watched television episode in American TV history, and began a long slow march to now, where TV is expected to “land” much-anticipated endings.

Which brings us to Game of Thrones.

The dissatisfaction has been brewing for weeks. In the middle series of something like Thrones all the seriess possible endings exist, suspended. Yet no ending to a story an audience has invested dozens of hours over several years can satisfy its entire audience, and epics, especially television epics, narrow as they go on. The number of characters reduces; the number of possible endings collapses. The death of possibility can hit the invested as hard as that of any character.

Some interpreted Jaimes final speech in episode four of this season as indicating an intention to kill Cersei: doing so would redeem him. For them, this weeks episode senselessly reversed Jaimes decision to ride to Winterfell to fight for the living, against the wishes of his sister/lover.

Yet it didnt undo his character development: hes still the man who chose to fight as a common soldier for the living against the dead. Its just that hes still the man who pushed a child out of a window for Cersei, too – which is literally what he said.

Earlier in the season, there were protestations about how that army of the dead was defeated, often from those who had decided it was a metaphor for the climate crisis. This brought scorn that they should be defeated relatively early in the final season, leaving said Cersei and Jaimes under-characterised, over-enunciating fishy rival for her affection, Euron Greyjoy, as the final enemy.

But Game of Thrones is a series that has inverting dramatic convention deep in its dramaturgy. So Jaime – a character the audience has come to enjoy and other characters at last to respect – dies unredeemed. The army of the dead can be defeated.

And Daenerys Stormborn does not walk into Kings Landing at the head of multiple foreign armies to be greeted as a liberator. This last was always a fantasy, even in the context of fantasy, and too many people have said it was going to happen for there to be any chance of it happening at all. Daenerys long march is the only one of Game of Thrones stories that has never quite flipped, until now. (more…)

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Labour seeks to reframe the European elections as a fight against the far right

Can anything arrest the fall in Labour's polling numbers ahead of next week's European Par..

Can anything arrest the fall in Labour's polling numbers ahead of next week's European Parliament elections? Remainers in the PLP believe that calling time on Brexit talks with the government and offering an explicit endorsement of a second referendum is the only option. But party strategists believe an unlikely figure could boost Labour's chances on 23 May: Tommy Robinson.

The far-right activist – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – is standing as an independent candidate in the North West of England. The region elected three Labour MEPs in 2014 but in 2009, as local members have been reminded in emails this week, its eighth seat was taken by Nick Griffin, then leader of the British National Party.

In a campaign dominated by divisions over Europe, Labour has made a deliberate decision to invoke the spectre of Tommy Robinson MEP in a bid to win over wavering voters ahead of next Thursday, and to motivate an activist base MPs allege has been left disenchanted by the party's divisions over Europe. "In the last elections we saw off the BNPs Nick Griffin with your help, we can do the same with Tommy Robinson…Please dont let Brexit be the reason you dont vote next week," one email to members in the North West said.

Writing to the parliamentary Labour party this afternoon, Jeremy Corbyn similarly sought to reframe next week's poll as a chance to "campaign on our radical agenda but also to stand up to the racism, hatred and division of the far-right", in an explicit attempt to overcome party divisions over Europe after a fractious week at Westminster.

"History shows us the appalling outcome if this is allowed to fester and grow, so it is alarming to see the rise of fascist and far-right parties and politicians both here in Britain and across Europe," the Labour leader wrote in an email that did not mention the prospect of a new public vote. "We must never let the far right or those who seek to divide us triumph."

"I will be out campaigning and taking our message to the far right in the coming days, and thank you for the campaigning you have planned between now and Thursday 23rd May to send a message that only the Labour Party and a future Labour government can deliver unity, change and a society that works for the many, not the few."

MPs in the North West and beyond have also been advised to "use Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Tommy Robinson) to motivate Labour members to campaign for our Party". They have also been advised to support counter-demonstrations against far-right activists.

"For example, if he is in your area, you should communicate with your members to push the message 'only Labour can stop Tommy Robinson and the far-right. Maximising the Labour vote is the only way to do this and so everyone should help on polling day to increase turnout of the Labour vote," the PLP was advised in Corbyn's email this afternoon.

Squeeze leaflets aimed at supporters of smaller parties in the North West urge voters to vote Labour "to fight racism in Europe" and prevent Yaxley-Lennon from winning a seat. They do not mention the party's Brexit stance beyond a promise to "always work closely with European neighbours" and protect environmental standards and workers' rights.

MPs from other regions have been offered the chance to use similar campaign literature in their own areas. With internal tensions over Brexit running high, an anti-far-right campaign is likely to be one of the few messages able to induce a semblance of unity. (more…)

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