Taliban, Afghan Opposition to Meet in Moscow; Kabul Not Attending


04 February 2019, 00:50


Taliban representatives will meet influential Afghan opposition leaders in Moscow for two days of peace building discussions starting Tuesday, but envoys from the Kabul government will not be in attendance, VOA reports.

The controversial meeting, critics say, underscores a deepening political divide in Afghanistan and would further weaken President Ashraf Ghanis National Unity government.

The so-called intra-Afghan peace meeting in Russia comes just days after the United States reported significant progress in ongoing talks with Taliban insurgents, though they also excluded the Afghan government.

The Taliban refuses to engage in direct or indirect talks with the Ghani administration, branding them American puppets.

A Taliban spokesman confirmed to VOA Sunday a delegation from its Qatar-based political office will participate in the Moscow talks under the leadership of senior insurgent negotiator, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai.

Russia has distanced itself from the upcoming meeting after criticism from the Afghan government. Critics suggested the disputed Afghan talks could have stemmed from Moscows deepening rivalry with Washington.

But the Russian embassy in Kabul has clarified in a statement that the meeting is being arranged by a Russia-based Council of Afghans Society to promote peace in Afghanistan.

A 38-member Afghan political delegation, including several women, consists of prominent former leaders, presidential candidates, lawmakers, tribal elders, all of them highly critical of Ghanis beleaguered National Unity government.

First step towards intra-Afghan peace talks

Former president, Hamid Karzai, former national security adviser, Haneef Atmar — who is running against Ghani in the July presidential elections — Mohammad Mohaqiq, former governors Mohammad Ismail Khan and Atta Mohammad Noor, who fought against the Soviets after their 1979 invasion of Afghanistan are part of the delegation.

A joint statement issued on behalf of the Afghan delegation described Tuesdays meeting in Russia as the first step towards intra-Afghan peace talks in the peace process.

We hope that the Moscow meeting will prove helpful and complementary for encouraging a national and regional consensus and for supporting the U.S. efforts for Afghan peace, the statement noted. It urged the Afghan government to play its constructive role for achieving a sustainable peace in the country.

Holding such meetings will not help us in reaching peace at all, so its little more than a political drama, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Sebghat Ahmadi told reporters in Kabul when asked for his reaction to the Moscow talks.

U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators are due to hold another round of peace talks in Doha on February 25.

At the end of their six days of uninterrupted talks in the Qatari capital last month, Khalilzad and chief Taliban negotiator Stanekzai, in separate statements announced they are close to a deal on a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in exchange for assurances from the Taliban they will not to allow terrorists to use Afghan soil for future attacks against America and its allies.

But Khalilzad has underscored the need for a comprehensive cease-fire and the Talibans engagement in intra-Afghan national peace negotiations for further progress.