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Russia Set to Host Taliban, Afghan Politicians

By Ayaz Gul May 27, 2019

Prominent opposition politicians from Afghanistan and representatives of the Taliban insurgency will meet in Russia on Wednesday for discussions on promoting a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war that continues to cause dozens of casualties every day.

The intra-Afghan conference comes as months of direct peace negotiations between the United States and the Taliban appear to have slowed down, if not deadlocked, over insurgents' refusal to cease hostilities until all U.S.-led international forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

Washington has linked its troop withdrawal move to counterterrorism assurances by the Taliban, a comprehensive cease-fire and the insurgent group's participation in a peace dialogue with the Afghan government and other groups to end years of hostilities.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that prior to Wednesday's peace-related talks, Taliban and Afghan delegates are scheduled to attend a meeting on Tuesday, marking the 100th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Moscow and Kabul. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will deliver the welcome address, it said.

That special gathering will be attended, among others, by former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Mohammad Karim Khalili, the head of Afghanistan's official High Peace Council (HPC), which is tasked with promoting reconciliation with armed opposition groups. Afghan diplomats in Moscow will also be in attendance.

A Taliban spokesman announced Monday the head of its Qatar-based "political office," Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, will lead the 14-member team of senior insurgent officials at this week's meetings in Moscow.

"The delegation of Islamic Emirate (Taliban) will also hold closed-door meetings with senior officials of the Russian Federation," said Zabihullah Mujahid, without giving further details.

It was not immediately known whether Khalili and other members of the HPC will be part of Wednesday's intra-Afghan discussions because the Taliban refuse to engage in any peace talks with anyone associated to the U.S.-backed Kabul government.

The intra-Afghan talks would mark the second time Taliban officials have met with Afghan opposition politicians in Russia. The first such interaction took place in February, but no government representatives were present because of objections by the insurgents

Russia has stepped up its diplomatic involvement in pushing a peaceful settlement to the Afghan war, using its growing influence and contacts with the Taliban. Russia, the U.S. and China announced at a meeting last month that the three countries had reached a consensus on a framework for a peace deal the U.S. is negotiating with the Taliban. They did not elaborate.

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