Afghan rivals say no closer to direct talks after Moscow meeting

US diplomat Alice Wells meets Additional Secretary FO Aftab Khokhar on November 6. — Foreign Office  File

US diplomat Alice Wells meets Additional Secretary FO Aftab Khokhar on November 6. — Foreign Office File

"We said that we will be participating in a meeting on Afghanistan which is hosted by Russian Federation". This is the first time that a Taliban delegation is taking part in such high-level worldwide meeting.

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India is set to participate in a "non-official" level meet in Russian Federation on November 9 on Afghanistan, where members of the Taliban are expected to be present.

"Our participation at the meeting will be at the non-official level".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday voiced hope that a conference on Afghanistan taking place in Moscow could help pave the way for peace talks. "All others are facilitators and we should not deny support from any country (for Afghanistan peace)", he added.

The meeting between the government officials and the Taliban "will be an important contribution to providing favorable conditions for the start of direct talks between the government and the Taliban movement", Lavrov said.

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.

The Moscow conference comes as Washington already has initiated a direct dialogue process with the Taliban, meeting a long-running insurgent demand. This time, the Afghan government hasn't sent its envoys, but several members of the government-appointed Peace Council are attending the event.

The Kabul government did not send a delegation.

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He also shared the demands of Taliban for reconciliation which included establishment of environment of trust, removal of US sanctions on Taliban, specifying a safe zone for peace talks, opening of a formal office for Taliban, global community's guarantee of peace talks, and release of prisoners.

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

The meeting on Friday demonstrated Moscow's renewed aspirations in Afghanistan nearly 30 years after the Soviet Union withdrew its battered forces.

While a five-member Taliban delegation led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, head of the Taliban's political council in Qatar, will attend the meeting, the U.S. has also confirmed its participation.

"Our agreement with the Russians is that this meeting should lead to direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban", Sibghat Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry said, according to the National.

Moscow has sought a greater role in worldwide diplomacy in recent years, with efforts at settling conflicts that often give a junior role to the US. The latest talks occurred last month where newly appointed special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalamay Khalilzad, led the US team.

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.

But Russia is also concerned a US failure in Afghanistan will see it become a renewed source of terrorism, and is already seeking to block the flow of narcotics from the country.

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