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Afghan govt, Taliban to meet for first direct peace talks

MOSCOW: Russia is hosting a high-level talks in capital Moscow on Friday which its Foreign Ministry bills as the “first direct high-level talks between the Taliban and Afghan government”.

The importance that Russia attaches to the second session of the Moscow conference on Afghanistan on November 9 is evident from the fact that the event, which will be held at the level of deputy foreign ministers, will be opened by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was not present at similar meetings on Syria, even during that country’s most difficult periods. Russia’s Foreign Ministry sent invitations to representatives of 11 countries — Afghanistan, the US, India, Iran, China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The Afghan government has already confirmed that a delegation from the country’s High Peace Council will be attending, while the Taliban also said it would send representatives to Moscow.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai also announced his intention to attend the conference because “any possibility of peace talks with the Taliban should not be ignored”.

Atta Muhammad Nur, the former governor of Balkh province, is also expected to attend. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement, all the invited countries but one — 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 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.

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 Centre 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. 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?” Nessar said.

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