Taliban, Afghan leaders meet for talks in Moscow

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, second left, speaks as he attends a conference on Afghanistan bringing together representatives of the Afghan authorities and the Taliban in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.

Newly appointed USA 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.

RIA quoted Muhammad Sohail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban's political office, as saying that before starting talks with the Kabul government, "the issue of the presence of external forces" needed to be addressed.

US officials have held two meetings with the Qatar-based Taliban negotiators since July.

Bringing the Taliban and Afghanistan on the table is seen as another major diplomatic win for Moscow, since the Islamist group had consistently refused to negotiate with the elected Afghan government, calling it an "American puppet".

The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, will travel to Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar with an interagency delegation from November 8-20, the US Department of State said in a statement.

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Last year, the USA and the Taliban reportedly refused to attend the first meeting Moscow hosted.

The Taliban delegation reiterated its demand for the withdrawal of USA forces from Afghanistan where they support the Kabul government.

Khalilzad met Taliban leaders in Qatar last month as part of efforts to find a way to end the 17-year-long war in Afghanistan, according to the Islamist group that was ousted from power by USA -led forces in 2001.

Citing anonymous Russian diplomats, AA notes, "The President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Mr. [Ashraf] Ghani, chose to send a delegation of the country's High Peace Council to the meeting". Regional players like Pakistan, China and Iran are among the participants of the meeting hosted by Russian Federation.

On Thursday, Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, revealed that a five-man delegation would participate in the conference, stressing, "There will not be any sort of negotiations taking place with the delegation of Kabul administration".

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A Taliban delegation met with United States peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar in October to discuss ending the Afghan conflict.

According to Sputnik news agency, Russian Federation has sent invitations for what is called the Moscow Format talks to Afghanistan, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, the United States and the Afghan Taliban.

An unnamed source told the National that Kabul snubbed the event, choosing instead to send the members from the country's independent High Peace Council (HPC), who "will be attending the talks in their own capacity".

In August, the Afghan government announced that Afghanistan and Russian Federation would co-chair proposed future talks in Moscow on Afghanistan's peace.

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.

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