U.S., Taliban to Join Russia-Hosted Afghan Peace Talks

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

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said on the eve of the meeting that delegates from 12 countries, including the US, will participate in the second "Moscow format consultations".

The United States and the Taliban are both set to attend for the first time a multilateral conference Russian Federation will host Friday in Moscow to discuss how to achieve peace and national reconciliation in Afghanistan. As per the outline of the New Development Plan finalised in September 2017, India would take up hundreds of development projects to the tune of $1 billion to help rebuild the country.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, second right, arrives to attend a conference on Afghanistan bringing together representatives of the Afghan authorities and the Taliban in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.

"It was the considered decision on the government of India that we will participate on a non-official level", he said refusing to divulge more information.

"Russia has managed to steal the agenda from the USA", said Ruslan Mamedov, program director at the Russian International Affairs Council, a research organization set up by the Kremlin.

The first such meeting, proposed for September 4 of this year, was called off at the last moment after the Afghan government pulled out, describing its involvement in the Moscow meeting as "unnecessary" as the Taliban had "disrespected internationally-sanctioned principles and rejected the message of peace and direct negotiations".

The MEA spokesperson said India will support any effort to continue the peace process consistent with the policy on Afghanistan - which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled and with participation of the Afghanistan government. According to sources, India has participated in the multilateral meetings on Afghanistan in the past, aimed at providing security and stability in the conflict-torn country.

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The Moscow-format meeting on Afghanistan will be held on November 9 and representatives of the Afghan Taliban radical movement will take part in it, the Russian Foreign Ministry had said last week.

While a five-member Taliban delegation led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, head of the Taliban's political council in Qatar, will attend the meeting, the United States has also confirmed its participation.

"The meeting is taking place today (Friday)".

Nevertheless, VOA quotes the Trump administration as saying the USA will attend in coordination with Kabul. "This is a meeting to debate the current situation in Afghanistan".

Mujahid defended the Taliban's participation in Moscow meeting, saying it will not be chaired or co-chaired by the Kabul government unlike previous such worldwide gatherings. New Delhi has always maintained that it will engage with the elected government of Afghanistan, and participating in the meeting would have given legitimacy to the Taliban.

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

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

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