Afghan and Taliban leaders, Pakistan, US, India, Iran, China, and five CARs attend moot
Sitting between Afghan envoys and their fierce rivals from the Taliban movement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov promised Friday to work for a united and peaceful Afghanistan, showcasing his country’s return to the diplomatic forefront as the Afghan war grinds on.
“Russia stands for preserving the one and undivided Afghanistan, in which all of the ethnic groups that inhabit this country would live side by side peacefully and happily,” Lavrov said, seated between a five-man Taliban delegation and four members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a government-appointed body charged with overseeing the peace process.
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 on Friday.
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.
“Russia, as the organizer of this session, sees its role in working together with Afghanistan’s regional partners and friends who have gathered at this table today to extend all possible assistance to facilitate the start of a constructive intra-Afghan dialogue,” he added, reports Washington Post
As they gathered around a large circular table in a Moscow hotel, the atmosphere was jovial and almost festive. Hugs were exchanged with members of the Taliban. There was waving and winking at familiar faces. Ahead of the talks, Taliban delegates gathered in the lobby to drink cups of green tea.
Taliban delegates said they laid out the Islamist insurgent group’s demands for a peace process. They also reiterated their wish to speak to the US government.
“Considering our main demand is the withdrawal of foreign troops, we will discuss peaceful settlement with the Americans,” said the Taliban’s top political envoy, Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai. “We do not recognize the incumbent government as legitimate.”
A representative from the US Embassy in Moscow attended, but only as an observer. Yet bringing both sides of the Afghan conflict to Moscow is still a major success for Russia.
“Russia has the experience of war. If it gains the experience of peace, we welcome it,” said Habiba Sarabi, the deputy chair of the High Peace Council and the only woman — from any country — to take part in the talks.
The talks come after years of back-channel diplomacy between Moscow and the Taliban. The Taliban has spoken to a range of countries in recent years, including the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, but often under the shroud of secrecy.
Friday’s meeting in Moscow was the first of its kind to take place publicly. Kabul chose not to send diplomats to Friday’s talks but instead sent the High Peace Council.
“The United States stands ready to work with all interested parties to support and facilitate a peace process,” State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said this week.