Russia invites Afghan leaders for talks with Taliban, angering Kabul

Updated November 03, 2018

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Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. — Photo/File
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. — Photo/File

KABUL: Russia has quietly invited a group of senior Afghan politicians to talk with the Taliban in Moscow, bypassing President Ashraf Ghani’s government in a move that has angered officials in Kabul who say it could muddle the US-backed peace process.

The invitations, extended over the past two months by Russian diplomats in Kabul, were confirmed by six of the eight leaders, including former president Hamid Karzai, or their aides, and by other leading politicians with ties to the Afghan government.

Russia in August propos­ed holding multilateral peace talks in Moscow and invited 12 countries and the Taliban to attend a summit the following month. But the meeting was postponed after Ghani rejected the invitation on the grounds that talks with the Taliban should be led by the Afghan government. The United States had also declined to attend.

Afghan govt officials say the move will complicate ongoing peace process

Three senior Afghan officials said the government was unhappy that Moscow was pressing ahead with plans for talks.

“We requested Russia to cancel the summit because talking to the Taliban at multiple forums will further complicate the peace process backed by the US, but they rejected the request,” said a senior Afghan official who has been holding discussions with Russia.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakha­rova said on Thursday that she hoped to be able to announce details of the conference “in the coming days”.

Zakharova told reporters at a briefing that the date and list of participants were being finalised, but that Russia wanted to be absolutely sure before announcing anything publicly.

Diplomatic engagement between the Taliban and the US gained mome­ntum in October, after US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan Zalmay Khalil­zad met Taliban leaders in Qatar. But many Afghan politicians say they have been left out of the process.

Karzai, who ran the country for 13 years following the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 but has become a vocal critic of US policy, is among those planning to travel to Moscow.

“Karzai will travel to Moscow because any opportunity for peace talks with the Taliban must not be ignored,” said Mohammad Yusuf Saha, a spokesman for the former president.

Atta Mohammad Noor, a leader in the Jamiat-i-Islami and former governor of the strategic Balkh province, said he too would attend.

Noor, a powerful figure among Afghanistan’s ethnic Tajiks who was once a commander of the anti-Soviet Mujahideen, said he had no problem with the US and Ghani holding private talks with the Taliban, “but they cannot decide whether we should talk to the Taliban or not”.

He said many Afghans were realising that “a single fixed formula prescribed by one foreign power will not help Afghans attain peace”.

Senior Taliban members in Afghanistan said they would send a delegation to Moscow, as it would give them an opportunity to engage with neighbouring countries including China, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmen­istan, which have previously agreed to send their representatives.

“Most countries have acknowledged our status and invited us as a separate political force. This is, in fact, our victory,” said a senior member of the Afghan Taliban.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2018