India to attend Afghan peace talks in Moscow

Published: November 9, 2018
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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend a signing ceremony following their meeting on the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg on June 1, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend a signing ceremony following their meeting on the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg on June 1, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

India’s Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj confirmed the country’s participation in multilateral peace talks scheduled to be held in the Russian capital where representatives of the Afghan Taliban will be present on Friday, the Economic Times reported.

“We are aware that the Russian Federation is hosting a meeting in Moscow on 9 November on Afghanistan. India supports all efforts at peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan that will preserve unity and plurality, and bring security, stability and prosperity to the country. India’s consistent policy has been that such efforts should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled and with the participation of the Government of Afghanistan,” MEA spokesperson said.

Putting speculations to rest regarding India’s presence at the Moscow summit along with Taliban leaders, the spokesperson added, “Our participation at the meeting will be at the non-official level.”

Taliban confirm delegation to attend Moscow peace talks

The US will hold a separate meeting with Taliban leaders under the Doha process, sent an observer to the Friday peace talks.

This will be the second time the Russian government attempts to find ways to establish peace in Afghanistan by bring regional powers together. The first meeting – scheduled for September 4 – was called off at the last moment after the Afghan government pulled out, describing its involvement in the Moscow meeting as “unnecessary” as the Taliban had “disrespected internationally-sanctioned principles and rejected the message of peace and direct negotiations”.

However, the Afghan government confirmed that a four-person delegation from the country’s High Peace Council will be attending the meet, while the Taliban also said they would send representatives to Moscow.

Russia has reaffirmed its position that there is no alternative to a political settlement, the need for active coordinated work among the neighboring countries, and agreements with the regional partners of Afghanistan.

“Taliban political envoys will attend the meeting but the participation does not mean they will hold talks with anyone. This is a meeting to debate the current situation in Afghanistan,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

“The meeting will discuss the end of the American invasion, identify problems and deliberate on regional peace,” Mujahid said in a brief statement.

Russia reaches out to Afghan leaders for Taliban talks, angering Kabul

The Russian Foreign Ministry bills the peace talks as the “first direct high-level talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government”.

The importance that Russia attaches to the second session of the Moscow conference on Afghanistan today is evident from the fact that the event will be opened by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry sent invitations to representatives of 11 countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan, the US, India, Iran, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan for the deputy foreign ministers-level talks.

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai also announced his intention to attend the conference saying, “any possibility of peace talks with the Taliban should not be ignored.” Atta Muhammad Nur, a former governor of Afghanistan’s Balkh province, is also expected to attend.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement, all the invited countries except the US confirmed their participation. The US State Department earlier explained its refusal due to, “the absence of significant results of the first meeting in Moscow regarding the Afghan peace process”.

But Russian diplomats say off-record that the US will be indirectly involved and informed. The US Embassy in Moscow said a US representative will attend the talks as an observer. “The President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Mr [Ashraf] Ghani, decided to send a delegation of the country’s High Peace Council to the meeting. For the first time, a delegation from the Taliban’s Political Office in Doha will participate in an international meeting of this level,” the statement read.

“The Russian side reaffirms the position that there is no alternative to a political settlement in Afghanistan and that there is a need for active coordinated work by Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries and regional partners in this area,” it added.

NATO chief hails Afghanistan’s chances for peace

Although each of the countries invited to the conference is deeply involved in the Afghan conflict, their role at the conference is to legitimise the process of the talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, Omar Nessar, director of the Center for Contemporary Afghan Studies, told Anadolu Agency.

One of the main issues that Nessar expects the Taliban to discuss with the Afghan government at the conference is the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country, primarily American forces. “At first glance, it seems that this is an unsolvable task,” he said.

“On the other hand, the attitude towards the US presence in Afghanistan is changing even for those who supported it. American troops are in Afghanistan under the security agreement. However, after 17 years in the country, the US has not fulfilled any of its obligations under it. Why are they there then?”

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