Taliban, US Will Join Russia-Hosted Conference for First Time

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Head- Deputy Chairman of the Afghanistan High Peace Council Din Mohammad Azizullah and Head of Political Office of the Taliban Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai

In response to queries regarding India's participation in the meeting, Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, "We are aware that the Russian Federation is hosting a meeting in Moscow on 9 November on Afghanistan". Kumar also slammed the opposition parties for their remarks in this regard and questioned, "Don't know how are people concluding that India will hold talks with the Taliban. We will see what happens in the meeting", he said.

"Both the sides declared their support to Afghan government's efforts towards the realization of an Afghan-led, and Afghan-owned national peace reconciliation process", the joint statement at the time had said.

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. India will be participating in the Moscow conference but will not be indulging in any direct talks with the Taliban. This will be the first appearance by the Taliban at such an worldwide conference, Zakharova emphasized.

Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov opened the meeting in a gilded conference room at Moscow's President-Hotel, where the two delegations sat around a circular table along with deputy foreign ministers from other regional countries, including China, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

"In coordination with the Afghan government, the US embassy in Moscow will send a representative to the working level to observe the discussions", said US State Department's deputy spokesman Robert Palladino.

The Moscow meetings ended without the sides agreeing on a path to direct dialogue, the delegations from the Taliban and Kabul´s High Peace Council said.

He also shared the demands of Taliban for reconciliation which included establishment of environment of trust, removal of US sanctions on Taliban, specifying a safe zone for peace talks, opening of a formal office for Taliban, global community's guarantee of peace talks, and release of prisoners.

When asked why India's stand had undergone a significant shift vis-à-vis the Taliban, government officials said that the decision was the outcome of "close discussions with the Afghanistan government", and it was felt necessary for India to have a "presence" there.

The United States will send an observer to an Afghan peace conference that begins in Moscow on Friday but it will send a high-level delegation to another Afghan conference in Geneva later this month.

It would be better for New Delhi to invite the militant leadership of J&K and Pakistan for the talks if it is really interested in bringing stability in the entire region.

It is believed that the Afghan government backed out of the September 4 meeting under U.S. pressure.

Talking to the Taliban is ample proof that the Taliban are not "terrorists" but the real stake holders in Afghanistan and without their participation, no peace can be achieved in the region.

The Afghan foreign ministry has emphasised that the council does not represent the Afghan government at the meeting, however. United States troops have been fighting in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion that was launched to dismantle al-Qaida and topple the Taliban.

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