Syed Zafar Mehdi

Moscow talks opportunity to “open a new page” in Afghanistan’s history

November 10, 2018

TEHRAN _ On Friday, Russia hosted a landmark international meeting on Afghanistan, which saw the participation of representatives from the Taliban, Afghan government and many regional countries, including Iran.

The ‘talks’ aimed at reviving the peace dialogue after 17 years of war is the first time Moscow has invited the Afghan Taliban. The U.S. government, which has been holding ‘peace talks’ with the insurgent group separately, is not in favor of Russia leading the initiative.

With Friday’s talks, experts believe, Russia has seized the opportunity to be at the center stage of Afghan peace process, much to the chagrin of Washington. While the present-day Taliban leaders, backed by the U.S., had fought against Russia in Afghanistan, the dynamics have changed over the years.

Taliban had sent a high-level delegation to the talks, which ended without any sides agreeing on a path to direct dialogue, according to sources. Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, Taliban spokesman, told journalists that the conference was “not about direct talks”, adding that the Taliban does not recognize the present government in Kabul and “therefore we won’t hold talks with them”.

Stanikzai reiterated that the main demand of the group was “withdrawal of foreign forces” from Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan has now stretched into its 18th year.

While the Afghan government did not send any delegation at an official level, members of the High Peace Council (HPC) did take part in the talks, representing Ashraf Ghani government at an unofficial level. HPC representative Eshan Taheri said Kabul was ready for direct talks with the insurgent group.

We asked them to define a date and place for the direct talks. The meetings in Moscow helped move things in this direction,” Taheri was quoted as saying. Pertinently, the Afghan government had refused to send any delegation to the previous talks hosted by Moscow saying the process should be led by Kabul.

More than a dozen countries had sent their representatives to the talks including China, Pakistan, Iran, India and Central Asian states – a massive diplomatic victory for the Russian government.

Russia said the Moscow talks marked the first time a Taliban-delegation had taken part in such high-level international meeting and said it will “open a new page in Afghanistan’s history”. In a statement issued late on Friday, Russia’s foreign ministry said the participants “agreed to continue consultations within the framework of this mechanism.”

The Moscow format was initially scheduled for September but was postponed after the Afghan government insisted that the process should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.
Meanwhile, the security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate with the insurgent group launching multi-pronged attacks across the country. In recent weeks, Uruzgan, Faryab and Ghazni have come under attack, resulting in the casualties of Afghan security forces and civilians.

At the time of filing this report, fighting between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban was underway in multiple Shia-populated districts of Ghazni, including Jaghori and Malistan. The clashes have been going on since past one week with little help from the government.

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