In trying to gain a regional foothold, Moscow hosts Afghan peace talks

(From the left) Head of Afghanistan delegation and Deputy Chairman of High Peace Council, Hajji Din Mohammad, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, head of the Taliban’s political council in Qatar, pose for a photo during the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Russia, on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2018
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In trying to gain a regional foothold, Moscow hosts Afghan peace talks

  • Aims to boost historical importance and diminish role played by US
  • Experts say all parties involved have vested interests and are just buying time

KABUL: Russia hosted a regional conference on Friday to explore solutions for a peaceful settlement of the US-led conflict in Afghanistan, one which experts say proliferated extremism in the country and turned it into an indirect battleground for various powers.
The one-day meeting, the first-of-its-kind to be held in Russia, is not expected to produce any quick results for Afghanistan’s complex war which began more than four decades ago. The meeting had been rescheduled several times because of US’ and Kabul’s reluctance to be part of the talks.
This time, however, Washington has sent a diplomat to attend the conference as an observer, while Kabul decided against assigning a delegation because of differences with Moscow. “The issue is that Russia, just like others, has its own goals and concerns about the war and wants to hear different solutions on how to end it,” Waheed Mozhdah, an analyst told Arab News. “It was a good occasion for all sides to have expressed their views,” he said, adding that Kabul missed a golden opportunity by not participating.
He added that Washington and Kabul’s unwillingness to send official delegations to the conference could result in bringing China and Central Asia closer to Moscow, who may argue that the US is unhappy with their intervention in finding a solution to the Afghan conflict.
Government officials did not return calls for a comment on Friday, but a statement released by the palace said that Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani, in a consultative meeting with a group of Afghan leaders on Thursday, emphasized that the peace process should be run and owned by the Afghans. 
Russia was a key foe of the Taliban government which ruled much of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 when the US toppled them from power. It also armed opposition forces looking to contain the spread of Islamist groups across the country.
However, in recent years, Russia has forged closer ties with the group and Pakistan, seen historically as a  key supporter of the Taliban and its Cold War-era rival. Russia has also held several rounds of military drills with Pakistani forces.
Just like the Taliban, Pakistan, and Iran, Moscow, too, wants the US-led troops to withdraw from Afghanistan and eyes Washington with deep skepticism, going as far as to blame it for the creation of Daesh. The US denies the charge; with its former top commander for Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson --  during a BBC interview earlier this year-- accusing Moscow of supplying arms and equipment to Taliban fighters.
Kamal Nasir Osoli, an Afghan lawmaker told Arab News that Russia wants to revive and boost its historical role in Afghanistan which dates back to more than seven decades. But at the same time, he said Moscow wanted a stable Afghanistan because a volatile and unsafe neighbor was a risk not just for Central Asia, but for Russia too.
“Russia is in a political confrontation with Britain and US elsewhere, but militarily involved in Syria. It wants to show that it is still a superpower by playing its cards in Afghanistan’s affairs too,” Ajmal Hodmand, a political science professor, said, adding that Moscow’s meeting was a good opportunity for the Taliban to show the Afghans that they have a global hold and are no longer isolated or reliant on Pakistan.
“The Taliban are showing that they have a political identity and are a force to be reckoned. Russia wants to pass on a message to its rivals that it can have an influence on Afghanistan and the Taliban and can use them against its rivals. Like the war here is a proxy one, the peace is becoming a proxy peace too,” he said.
He added that the resumption of efforts and a regional tour on part of US’ special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad was parallel to Moscow’s meeting -- Washington wanted Kabul to join hands with those countries which are closer to the US. There have been a series of meetings involving Taliban delegates and Europeans in recent years -- and most recently with representatives from the US -- about the prospect of the war.
Amrullah Saleh, a former intelligence director of Afghanistan said all those involved in the process for peace were after their own interests. “More than 12 countries have their own so-called peace process for Afghanistan and they call it Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. In reality, much of it is aimed at connecting with terrorists and buying time for their homeland,” he said in a tweet on Friday, adding that “neither their intent nor their conduct for peace efforts is helping Afghanistan.”


Sri Lanka victims: Citizens of at least 12 countries killed

A Sri Lankan couple, whose family member was killed in a yesterday blast, leaves from a mortuary after identifying the body, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, April 22, 2019. (AP)
Updated 13 min 18 sec ago
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Sri Lanka victims: Citizens of at least 12 countries killed

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: At least 290 people were killed in a series of nine bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.
Sri Lankan authorities say at least 30 foreigners died in the attacks. A look at some of the countries whose citizens were among the victims:
SRI LANKA: The vast majority of the victims were believed to be Sri Lankan citizens, many of them members of the island nation’s Christian minority. Names of many victims and other details on their lives were slow to trickle in and difficult to report, in part because Sri Lankan authorities blocked most social media after the blasts.
But among them was Dileep Roshan, 37, a carpenter who left behind a wife and daughter, his family told The Associated Press.
“His wife and daughter won’t be able to do much now because he is gone,” his older brother, Sanjeevani Roshan, said. “The real question is what will happen to their future.”
UK: Sri Lanka’s top diplomat in Britain says authorities know of eight British nationals killed in the bombings.
Among them were lawyer Anita Nicholson, son Alex Nicholson and daughter Annabel Nicholson, her husband, Ben Nicholson, confirmed in a statement. Nicholson said the family was on holiday, sitting at the table of the restaurant of the Shangri-la Hotel when they were killed. He said: “The holiday we had just enjoyed was a testament to Anita’s enjoyment of travel and providing a rich and colorful life for our family, and especially our children.”
INDIA: Indian officials say eight Indians died in the attacks.
DENMARK: The Bestseller clothing chain confirmed Danish media reports that three of the children of its owner, business tycoon Anders Holch Povlsen, were killed in the attacks. However, spokesman Jesper Stubkier gave no details in an emailed response to a query on the matter and said the company had no further comment.
SPAIN: Spain’s foreign ministry says a Spanish man and woman were killed but didn’t provide further details. The mayor of Pontecesures in northwest Spain, Juan Manuel Vidal, tells Radio Galega he knew the local pair and says they were in their 30s, according to a report by Spanish private news agency Europa Press.
AUSTRALIA: Australia’s prime minister says a mother and daughter from that country were killed. Manik Suriaaratchi and her 10-year-old daughter Alexendria were attending a church service in Negombo when they died.
CHINA: Chinese state media say two of the country’s citizens died in the blasts.
UNITED STATES: The State Department says at least four Americans were killed and several others seriously injured. It gave no details about the victims’ identities.
Fifth-grader Kieran Shafritz de Zoysa, spending a year in Sri Lanka on leave from the private Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., was among those killed, the school said in an email to parents, according to the Washington Post . The email said: “Kieran was passionate about learning, he adored his friends, and he was incredibly excited about returning to Sidwell Friends this coming school year.”
Dieter Kowalski, who lived in Denver and worked for international education company Pearson, died in the blasts shortly after he arrived at his hotel for a business trip, the company and his family told AP . A Friday Facebook post reads “And the fun begins. Love these work trips. 24 hours of flying. See you soon Sri Lanka!“
SWITZERLAND: The foreign ministry says two Swiss nationals, one of whom also had the citizenship of another country it didn’t name, died in the attacks. It said a third member of the family, who had two non-Swiss citizenships, also was killed. It didn’t identify the victims.
OTHERS: The Netherlands, Japan and Portugal have also confirmed their nationals were among the dead.