Moscow shows its back in the great game by hosting Taliban-Afghan peace talks

Moscow shows it\s back in the great game by hosting Taliban-Afghan peace talks
Moscow shows its back in the great game by hosting Taliban-Afghan peace talks
Representatives from the militants Doha office said they were taking part alongside senior diplomats from the region to find a peaceful solution to the issue of Afghanistan.

Both the militants and the Afghan government insisted the meeting did not mark formal negotiations, but the conference still marked a diplomatic coup for both Russia and the Taliban.

The Talibans attendance will bolster the groups international status, while the meeting gives Moscow the chance to influence peace efforts until now dominated by Washington.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said the participation of both Afghan leaders and the Taliban was an "important contribution" aimed at creating "favourable conditions for the start of direct talks".

Five Taliban envoys were led by Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanikzai, head of the Doha office and a former Taliban deputy foreign minister.

Speaking to The Telegraph before the talks, Habiba Surabi, deputy head of the council, said she hoped to see that the Taliban were flexible enough for genuine negotiations.

Video: In A First, India To Be In Talks With Taliban At “Non-Official” Level

She said she would suggest the delegations could talk Afghan-to-Afghan without foreign interference, but added that womens rights were at the top of her agenda and she intended to ask why the Taliban had no female representatives.

A Taliban statement before the meeting in a Moscow hotel said there will not be any sort of negotiations taking place with the delegation of the Kabul administration.

Kabul said the high peace council members were not an official government delegation, but did acknowledge they would discuss the dynamics and details of initiating direct negotiations.

The Taliban have so far dismissed Ashraf Ghanis government as a puppet regime and said they will only talk with the US to find an end to Americas longest war.

India, among other regional nations, is a part of the Russia-hosted peace talks in Moscow to end the war in Afghanistan.

India is participating in a Russia-sponsored peace conference with Taliban in a significant reassessment of its position on talks with the armed group that has waged an armed rebellion since 2001.

New Delhi has sent former Indian envoys to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Amar Sinha and TCA Raghavan respectively, to attend the conference at the “non-official level”.

“India supports all efforts at peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan that will preserve unity and plurality, and bring security, stability and prosperity to the country,” Indias foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said. 

“Indias consistent policy has been that such efforts should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled and with participation of the Government of Afghanistan,” he said.

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

A five-member Taliban delegation led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, head of its political council in Qatar, is also attending the talks in Moscow.

Indias participation is a stark departure from its earlier position as it has never engaged in formal talks with the Taliban.

Foreign policy analyst Manoj Joshi, who represents the Observer Research Foundation, said the talks in Moscow come at a time when the Taliban have steadily fortified their control in the Afghan countryside. 

“Essentially, India has bowed to the inevitable since the US, Russia, China and even the Afghan government have all indicated one way or the other that they are ready to talk with the Taliban,” Joshi told Al Jazeera.

“New Delhi is confident that the host Russians would not do anything which would be against Indias interests. Also, in participating in these talks, India takes the view that since the Afghan government, through the High Peace Council, is present, there should be no problem,” he added.

The High Peace Council (HPC) is a government body responsible for reconciliation efforts with the Taliban.

The Russian diplomatic efforts come weeks after newly appointed US special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, held talks with the Taliban in Qatar.

He will visit Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar from November 8 to 20 in an effort to end the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.

“There has been a shift in US policy – earlier, even though the previous administration spoke about a negotiated settlement, there was no concrete direction,” Zahid Hussain, an Islamabad-based security analyst, told Al Jazeera.

“For the first time now, the US is talking directly to the Taliban, which is also acceptable to the Taliban, as this was their demand from the outset. There has been some movement.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has previously proposed talks with the Taliban, saying it could be recognised as a political party if it accepted a ceasefire and accepted the countrys constitution.

The Taliban, which has been fighting the US-led forces since being thrown out of power in 2001, has generally refused to negotiate with the Afghan government.

“Although the Afghan government is preparing to negotiate, many people are now blaming the government, particularly President Ghani,” said Hekmatullah Azamy, acting head of Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul.

“They argue that successful peace talks mean a new interim administration which will be unacceptable to President Ghani,” Azamy told Al Jazeera.

In the meeting on Friday, members of the HPC said they are ready for talks with the Taliban without any preconditions.

“The future of Taliban is a matter of serious concern for the group – both at the leadership level as well as for its rank and file,” Azamy said.

“Taliban often questions whether they are ready to become a 100 percent political group and whether they can survive mainstream politics.

“Moreover, would the rank and file follow the leaders or will they join groups like Daesh (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group).”

Taliban officials have set the withdrawal of all foreign forces, release of prisoners and the lifting of a ban on travel as preconditions for any peace talks.

India had earlier refused to support a 2007 initiative of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai to engage the “good Taliban” in the peace process.

“Some make a distinction between good Taliban and bad Taliban – I dont, because Ive seen the Taliban, they have only one cult – the cult of violence,” then foreign minister of India Pranab Mukherjee had said.

The Taliban has inflicted a heavy toll on Afghan security forces in renewed attacks in recent weeks.  At least 20 army soldiers were killed at a border outpost in western Afghanistan on Tuesday.

More than 17 years after the US-led forces invaded the country and removed the Taliban, the war is intensifying. In recent months, violence has continued with mounting casualties on both sides.

There have been several attempts in recent years to broker a settlement between the western-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban without much success.

“Indias representatives are attending the talks in Moscow as part of efforts to bring peace and stability to the region. Its not switching tack but evolving assessment of ground realities,” said a ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker in New Delhi on condition of anonymity.

“All efforts towards making peace, whether the US-led talks or Russia-led talks, will help. We will be there to observe,” he added.

According to Azamy, India is one of the important stakeholders enjoying friendly ties with Kabul. He says it is vital for New Delhi to be a part of peace talks, especially with the Taliban involved.

“Without Indias involvement, the outcome of peace talks could upset them or make them feel insecure. They want to be engaged and aware of the developments,” he said.

India has forged a close partnership with Kabul since the fall of the Taliban. It has engaged in infrastructure and welfare projects in the war-torn country worth millions of dollars earning goodwill from Afghans.

It has also provided training to Afghan military personnel as well as donating military hardware as part of its policy to deepen military ties.

“By attending the Taliban talks, India can get a voice in the outcome of the peace process, where it has none at present. It will try to coordinate with the Afghan government which it supports strongly,” analyst Joshi told Al Jazeera.

“Simultaneously, the process enables it to build ties with the Taliban, even if somewhat late in the day. India cannot ignore the fact that ground realities ensure that the Taliban will be in the Afghan governing structure in some form or the other.”