ASIA Afghan, Tal­iban lead­ers hold talks

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MOSCOW — Moscow yes­ter­day hosted in­ter­na­tional talks on Afghanistan aimed at kick­start­ing di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Kabul and the Tal­iban mil­i­tant group, both of whom sent del­e­ga­tions.

Rus­sia hopes “through joint ef­forts to open a new page in the his­tory of Afghanistan”, Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov said as the talks opened at a Moscow ho­tel yes­ter­day morn­ing.

He said that the par­tic­i­pa­tion of both Afghan lead­ers and the Tal­iban was an “im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion” aimed at cre­at­ing “favourable con­di­tions for the start of di­rect talks”.

“I am count­ing on you hold­ing a se­ri­ous and con­struc­tive con­ver­sa­tion that will jus­tify the hopes of the Afghan peo­ple,” he said be­fore the talks con­tin­ued be­hind closed doors.

Tal­iban spokesman Zabi­ul­lah Mu­jahid said that the mil­i­tant group was send­ing five rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

They will not hold “any sort of ne­go­ti­a­tions” with the del­e­ga­tion of Kabul ad­min­is­tra­tion, he said.

“This con­fer­ence is not about hold­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with any party what­so­ever – rather it is about find­ing a peace­ful so­lu­tion to the is­sue of Afghanistan,” he added.

This is the first time that a Tal­iban del­e­ga­tion is tak­ing part in such high-level in­ter­na­tional meet­ing, Rus­sian for­eign min­istry spokes­woman Maria Zakharova said on Thurs­day.

The Tal­iban is banned from op­er­at­ing Rus­sia as it is clas­si­fied as a “ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion”.

The Afghan del­e­ga­tion is made up of four rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the High Peace Coun­cil, a gov­ern­ment body re­spon­si­ble for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ef­forts with the mil­i­tants, spokesman Sayed Ih­san Ta­heri said.

How­ever, the Afghan for­eign min­istry has em­pha­sised that the coun­cil does not rep­re­sent the Afghan gov­ern­ment at the meet­ing.

Moscow said it had in­vited rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the United States as well as In­dia, Iran, China, Pak­istan and five for­mer Soviet re­publics in Cen­tral Asia.

Pak­istan, which has long been ac­cused of pro­vid­ing sup­port to the Afghan Tal­iban, would “def­i­nitely” at­tend, for­eign min­istry spokesman Muham­mad Faisal said.

The US em­bassy in Moscow was send­ing a rep­re­sen­ta­tive to ob­serve the dis­cus­sions.

The Moscow meet­ing was ini­tially sched­uled to take place in Septem­ber but was post­poned af­ter Kabul in­sisted that the process should be Afghan-led.

The meet­ing comes at a sen­si­tive time.

Newly ap­pointed US peace en­voy Zal­may Khalilzad has been try­ing to con­vince the Tal­iban to agree to ne­go­ti­ate an end to the war and there are fears the Rus­sian meet­ing could de­rail those ef­forts.

A US gov­ern­ment watch­dog last week said Kabul’s con­trol of Afghanistan had slipped in re­cent months as lo­cal se­cu­rity forces suf­fered record ca­su­al­ties while mak­ing min­i­mal or no progress against the Tal­iban. — AFP

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