PESHAWAR: A Taliban delegation will meet former Afghan officials and opposition leaders at a meeting in Moscow on Tuesday, Taliban Spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Saturday, in a development certain to antagonize the Afghan government and complicate a fledgling peace process.
There have been a flurry of meetings between the Taliban and a US delegation led by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in recent weeks, and news of a draft deal last month raised hopes that the two sides might finally negotiate an end to a war that is stretching into its eighteenth year.
The Taliban have so far refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, who they consider an 'illegitimate, foreign-appointed regime.'
It is as yet unclear if the Russian government is officially organizing the Tuesday parleys.
“Yes, this is true,” Mujahid told Arab News, referring to reports of the upcoming meeting in Moscow. “There is a conference where everyone is presenting his viewpoint. We are also presenting our views. Independent Afghan politicians will be attending the conference but there will be no Afghan government official.”
A spokesman of the Afghanistan High Peace Council (HPC), Sayed Ihsan Taheri, told Arab News that the council’s head Karim Khalili is not formally invited to attend but members of the Afghan political elite would take part in the inter-Afghan conference.
“It is an informal gathering of Afghans in Russia but the HPC welcomes every step that leads to facilitate and push the Afghan peace process forward,” he added.
Both Kabul and Washington are angered by what is being seen as Russia’s attempt to take the driving seat in the peace process, so far spearheaded by the United States.
Ghani’s administration also fears that a rushed deal with the Taliban could undermine a fragile Afghan state and exacerbate lawlessness after the US pulls most of its remaining troops from Afghanistan.
Russia is angling to play an enhanced role in Afghanistan, not just in the peace process but also through economic investment, military support and diplomatic and cultural overtures.
A senior Afghan government official privy to the talks told Arab News that the Taliban delegation to Moscow would be headed by Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanekzai from the insurgents’ Doha office. He said former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, former senior Taliban official Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef and former deputy Foreign Minister Hikmat Khalil Karzai were among the group of people invited to attend the talks. Mohammad Mohaqiq, Mohammad Ismail Khan and Atta Mohammad Noor, all prominent and outspoken critics of President Ghani, are also invited.
“During the course of the conference, all the leaders will share their views to explore possible options for a solution to the Afghan imbroglio,” the official said.
Last November, Moscow hosted a peace summit attended by delegates from a body appointed by the Kabul government, the Taliban and officials from a dozen nations, including the United States.