Russian Federation brings together Afghan officials, Taliban in talks

Leroy Wright
November 10, 2018

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A day ahead of the meeting in Moscow, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban) has announced that a five-member delegation will be taking part in the talk that aims to 'clarify the policy of Islamic Emirate about ending the occupation of Afghanistan to the participants'.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, second left, speaks as he attends a conference on Afghanistan bringing together representatives of the Afghan authorities and the Taliban in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed on Wednesday that in coordination with the Afghan government, the US embassy in Moscow "will send a representative to the working level to observe the discussions".

Emerging following two hours of talks, Taliban spokesman Muhammad Sohail Shaheen reiterated the group's position that no direct negotiations are possible until USA troops leave Afghanistan.

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

"It's not a negotiation", Shaheen told reporters.

He said that the participation of both Afghan leaders and the Taliban was an "important contribution" aimed at creating "favourable conditions for the start of direct talks".

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The Taliban has confirmed that it will send representatives to Moscow.

Beyond the political outreach, US military officials have recently accused Russian Federation of supplying the Taliban with weapons.

Newly appointed U.S. peace envoy Khalilzad has been trying to convince the Taliban to agree to negotiate an end to the war and there are fears the Russian meeting could derail those efforts. "However, only a group of people were invited and that reflects the intention of Taliban who are not yet willing to negotiate peace with the government".

"Taliban was not even opposed to the issue during their regime, this was just baseless propaganda against the Taliban, regarding women's rights, whatever rights Islam gives them, we are persuaded by that, in terms of rights of education, rights to work or rights of owning property, we don't have a problem with it", Stanikzai told reproters.

The Taliban have so far rejected Ghani's offer, insisting on direct talks with the U.S. Technically it does not want to absent itself from a meeting hosted by Russian Federation, a country seen as a strategic partner, and be left out of a dialogue on the future of Afghanistan, which it considers part of its extended neighbourhood. It was for the Taliban and the Afghan delegation to answer, however, whether there will be any direct contact or interaction between the two sides, the Russian spokeswoman said when asked whether the two warring parties will have bilateral discussions.

At the end of October, Mujahid noted that the five high-level Taliban members transferred from the American prison in Guantánamo to Qatar in exchange for U.S. Army deserter, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be among the group's representatives negotiating peace from Qatar.

Russia's re-emergence in Afghan affairs in part reflects a broader strategy to bolster its appearance as a power-broker on the world stage.

The push for India's involvement is believed to have come directly from the Kremlin. Opening the talks, Lavrov warned the Islamic State wants to make Afghanistan a "bridgehead" to expand into Central Asia.

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