Taliban will attend Afghan talks in Russia

Taliban will attend Afghan talks in Russia
In one of the Taliban's biggest diplomatic forays, the group have accepted an invitation for Afghan talks in Russia next month.
3 min read
21 August, 2018
The Taliban have long insisted on direct talks with the United States (Getty)

The Taliban have accepted an invitation for talks on the future of Afghanistan next month, Russia said on Tuesday, in one of the insurgent group's biggest diplomatic forays since the US-led invasion.

The announcement comes at a time when the insurgent group have expanded their footprint across Afghanistan, launching a relentless assault on Ghazni, a strategic city near Kabul earlier this month.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow invited the Taliban to the 4 September talks and was hoping for "productive" negotiations.

"The first reaction was positive, they are planning to take part in the meeting," he said.

Lavrov reaffirmed that Russia's contacts with the Taliban aim to ensure the safety of Russian citizens in Afghanistan and encourage the insurgents to abandon hostilities and engage in a dialogue with the government.

A senior Taliban official confirmed they would send a delegation to Russia "for the sake of finding peace in Afghanistan".

The official said the group plans to send representatives to other countries in the region, including Pakistan and China, "to take them into confidence and address their concerns".

"We are in contact with all neighbors," the official said, adding that the Taliban routinely hold meetings with European officials at the group's political office in the Qatar.

The Taliban official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

Lavrov rejected claims by the Afghan government that Russia is hoping to use the Taliban to combat the Islamic State group.

An IS affiliate in Afghanistan has staged several devastating attacks in recent years and has repeatedly clashed with the Taliban. The IS branch is seen as particularly threatening to Russia because it includes a large number of battle-hardened Uzbek militants.

"I can't even hypothetically imagine how Russia could use the Taliban for fighting the IS," Lavrov said at a news conference.

"We fight the IS with all means available, we support Syria in that struggle, we help equip the Iraqi army for the same goal and we naturally would like to see the people of Afghanistan getting rid of the IS."

In a separate statement, the Russian foreign ministry strongly criticised the claim, made by Afghan Ambassador Abdul Qayyum Kochai, saying it's based on "insinuations" and "completely distorts the meaning of Russia's policy on Afghanistan".

"It's deplorable that instead of helping maintain partnership and mutual trust between Russia and Afghanistan, the Afghan ambassador has taken steps leading in the opposite direction," the ministry said.

It hailed the Afghan government's offer of a holiday ceasefire, adding that the Taliban's apparent rejection of it is regrettable.

The ministry said the September talks in Moscow would include representatives of Russia, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iran and India, and are intended to "help advance the process of national reconciliation in Afghanistan and establish peace in the country as soon as possible".

It said other countries, including the US, also have been invited to attend.

The Taliban have long insisted on direct talks with the United States. The group refuses to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they see as illegitimate.

But Washington indicated a change in its long-standing policy in June when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US was prepared to "support, facilitate and participate" in talks.