Taliban at Afghanistan talks table today, Delhi sending ‘non

Clay Curtis
November 10, 2018

The Moscow meeting will examine ways to "initiate direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban", a spokesman for the High Peace Council, Sayed Ehsan Tahiri, said by phone.

In his speech during the Moscow Summit, Haji Din Mohammad urged the Taliban group to positively respond to the offers of the Afghan government regarding peace process, emphasizing that the ongoing conflict claims the lives of ordinary Afghans.

He said this decision had been taken in close coordination with the Afghan government.

"This conference was not about direct talks", Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, Taliban spokesperon, told journalists in translated comments quoted by Interfax news agency. The U.S. military has accused Iran, Russia, and Pakistan of backing the Taliban.

The meeting was billed by Russian Federation as an attempt to bring the Taliban and the US -backed Afghan government closer to direct peace talks, though little was expected to come out of the event, which both sides have emphasized is not a formal negotiation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, second right, arrives to attend a conference on Afghanistan bringing together representatives of the Afghan authorities and the Taliban in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.

The US embassy in Moscow was sending a representative to observe the discussions. "We highly regard Indian support in the peace process in Afghanistan and welcome Indian readiness and that of other partner countries in the Moscow format", the Russian Embassy said in a statement on Thursday.

India is already believed to be in indirect negotiations with the Taliban through tribal elders to secure the release of seven Indian workers allegedly abducted by the group in the northern province of Baghlan in May this year.

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The development marks a major shift in New Delhi's policy as this is the first time ever that India will attend a forum in which the Taliban will be present.

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.

US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells was in Islamabad from November 6-7 for talks on Afghanistan and terror financing.

Meanwhile, Taliban representatives in Qatar held a preliminary meeting with USA envoy Zalmay Khalilzad last month to discuss the group's conditions to end the 17-year war.

A Russian proposal to hold the talks on September 4 had to be cancelled after the USA pulled out of them, and the Ghani government opposed them. New Delhi has always maintained that it will engage with the elected government of Afghanistan, and participating in the meeting would have given legitimacy to the Taliban.

Reportedly, this is the second time that Russian Federation is trying to bring regional powers together in an attempt to bring stability and peace in the war-torn nation of Afghanistan.

An unnamed source told the National that Kabul snubbed the event, choosing instead to send the members from the country's independent High Peace Council (HPC), who "will be attending the talks in their own capacity".

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