Afghan Taliban demand the lion's share of power in any new government

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WASHINGTON, Aug 3 - The Taliban and Kabul Government in U.S. - backed talks on bringing peace to Afghanistan, with the insurgents demanding the lion's share of power in any new government, the special U.S. envoy said on Tuesday.

Afghan veteran U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad's bleak assessment of the peace process coincides with the Taliban strengthening in provincial capitals that have uprooted thousands of civilians as the troop pullout nears completion after 20 years of war.

At this point, Khalilzad is demanding that they should win the lion's share of power in the next government given the military situation as they see it, he told the Aspen Security Forum in an online conference.

The deadlocked negotiations in Doha were the subject of a telephone call between U.S. Secret Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday, with them agreeing on the need to accelerate talks, the State Department said.

Blinken and Ghani also condemned the ongoing Taliban attacks and displacement of civilian population, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

The rapid advances of the Taliban have fueled fears that the insurgents aim to re-establish by force their brutal brand of Islamist rule ended by the 2001 U.S. invasion, including the repression of women and independent media.

Khalilzad was the architect of the U.S.-Taliban deal for a Taliban pullout reached in February 2020.

Khalilzad describes the talks in Doha as limited to that deal and says paix can be reached only through a ceasefire and negotiations that would establish a transitional government.

The Ghani government says the talks should focus on getting the Taliban into the current government, he added.

The Taliban contend that Khalilzad's government is the result of military occupation and they want an agreement on a transitional government and constitution, Ghani said.

They are far apart, he said. They are trying to affect each other's calculus and the terms by what they are doing on the battlefield.

Khalilzad said that 40 years of continuous conflict has no legitimacy any more.

It's a struggle for balance of power, dispensation of power between various factions and none Afghans, especially civilian Afghans, should die because of that, he added in remarks that risked angering the U.S. backed Ghani government.