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Taliban attend landmark peace talks in Russia

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Topic: Taliban attend landmark peace talks in Russia
Posted By: AfghanistanNews
Subject: Taliban attend landmark peace talks in Russia
Date Posted: 09-Nov-2018 at 2:23pm
Taliban attend landmark Afghanistan peace talks in Russia

Russia has hosted a landmark international meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow aimed at kick-starting peace talks after decades of war.

It is the first time Taliban militants have attended such an event.

Members of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, which oversees peace efforts but does not represent the Afghan government, were also present.

But the Taliban again stressed the group would only hold direct talks with the US - not the Kabul government.

Kabul did not send its delegation for the meeting, which was attended by about a dozen countries. The US had observer status.

"We discussed the subject of direct talks with the Taliban and asked them to choose the place and the starting time," said a High Peace Council spokesman, quoted by Russia's RIA news agency.

The Taliban have said the meeting is "not about negotiating with any side". Western officials and the Afghan government view the Moscow talks with some suspicion - some fear it could derail other efforts at negotiations.

India attended in a "non-official" capacity a conference on bringing back peace in Afghanistan, which was hosted by Russia and participated by the Taliban as well as representatives from several countries including Pakistan, China and Iran.

Hours after the multi-lateral conference began in Moscow, India made it clear that its participation was in sync with its Afghan policy and asserted that attending the meeting was not talking to the Taliban at all.

In his opening remarks at the conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia and the countries of the region will continue to do everything possible to launch dialogue between Afghan government and the Taliban, which is banned in Russia.

"We are determined to make every possible effort to facilitate the opening of a new page in the history of Afghanistan," he was quoted as saying by the state-run Tass news agency.

Lavrov said the conference was £aimed at building an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue in order to advance the national reconciliation process£.

The United States Embassy in Moscow has sent a diplomat to observe Friday's discussions at the meeting which is being attended by representatives from Afghanistan, India, Iran, China, Pakistan and other countries.

India's former envoy to Afghanistan Amar Sinha and former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan T C A Raghavan were representing New Delhi at a "non-official" capacity.

Asked why India sent representatives to the meeting when the Taliban was participating in it, spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs Raveesh Kumar said in New Delhi that India will be part of any peace process which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.

"We will participate in any process which is consistent with the policy we have for Afghanistan... It was decided by the government that our participation will be at non-official level," he said.

To a question on participation of Taliban in the meeting, he said, "Where did we say that there will be talks with Taliban? We did not say that."

"In our policy on Afghanistan which we have articulated and which has been consistent for quite sometime that we will be supportive of any process in Afghanistan is a party to the process," said Kumar.

India's consistent policy has been that the peace talks should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled and with participation of the government of Afghanistan.

Initially, the meeting was proposed for September 4 but it was called off after the Afghan government pulled out of it. India had also declined an invitation to the meeting then.

In his address, Lavrov said all countries of the region and the entire international community would like to see Afghanistan as a peaceful, independent and prospering country, free of terrorism and drug trafficking.

At the same time, he said Afghanistan should not be used for "geopolitical games" and stressed the importance of preserving territorial integrity of the country.

"Russia supports the preservation of a united and indivisible Afghanistan in which all ethnic groups populating the country could live peacefully and happily.

Afghanistan's Foreign Ministry on November 9 issued a statement stressing that the High Peace Council is taking part in the talks "in its own capacity as a national but nongovernment institution, with a view to discuss the dynamics and details of initiating direct negotiations."

The High Peace Council (HPC) is a body of the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program, established by former President Hamid Karzai to negotiate with elements of the Taliban.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the militant group was sending five representatives, who will not hold "any sort of negotiations" with the Peace Council delegation.

Informal contacts between the Taliban and members of Afghanistan's Peace Council have taken place at various forums in the past.

So how big a deal is this meeting?
Observers do not expect quick results from the Moscow talks - previous attempts at brokering a peace process have all failed.

But the fact that the Taliban are in the same room as Afghan delegates, in Russia, with the US also in attendance is seen as significant.

Russia and the Taliban, for example, are historic foes, although they have begun talking in recent years.

US and Afghan forces have been fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan for more than a decade. And the US and Russia are former Cold War enemies who are still mistrustful of each other.

It's the first time that Moscow has invited the Afghan Taliban, who sent a high-level delegation. Neither the US nor the Afghan government wants Russia to lead such an initiative, known as the "Moscow Format".

But despite reservations by some, all 11 countries invited by Moscow are participating in different ways. Again, this is a first and unprecedented.

Although no significant breakthroughs were expected, bringing all the relevant players under one roof is a huge success for Russian diplomacy.

Russia is in a unique position to host such a meeting as it is the only country on speaking terms with all players.

Are there other peace moves?
The US is engaged in its own direct talks with the Taliban and attending these meetings in Moscow is significant.

It turned down an invitation to the first meeting Russia hosted last year. But this time the US said a representative from its embassy in Moscow would attend to "observe the discussions".

The Taliban sent a five-member delegation from its political office based in Qatar.

It emerged in July that Taliban officials secretly met a senior US diplomat in Qatar. Another round of talks were held last month.

And there have been other signs of change. On Thursday, Pakistan confirmed it had freed a senior Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, from jail last month at the request of the US.

"He was released to provide impetus to the peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan," said a Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman.

In June the Afghan government and the Taliban agreed a three-day ceasefire to coincide with the end of the Ramadan fasting month, Eid.

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