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

In a departure from India’s stand on engaging the Taliban New Delhi has announced it would participate at a “non-official” level sending two former senior diplomats to attend talks on the Afghanistan peace process to be held in Russia on Thursday

Taliban join Moscow talks to kick start Afghanistan negotiations

In his opening remarks at the conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia and the countries of the region will continue to do everything possible to launch dialogue between Afghan government and the Taliban, which is banned in Russia.

The United States and the Afghan government turned down invitations to formally participate in the meeting on grounds that they support only direct talks between the government and the Taliban. "It was decided by the government that our participation will be at non-official level", he said.

Representatives from Iran, China, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan arrived for the talks, officials said.

He said the group would first discuss issues concerning the United States with the Americans and reiterated that their main demand was the withdrawal of foreign troops.

US President Donald Trump launched a revised Afghan plan more than a year ago that saw the US scrap any timetables for a US pullout and re-commit thousands more troops to Afghanistan, a lot of them dedicated to training and advising local forces. Instead, the Afghan government sent members of the High Peace Council, a body set up to try to get peace negotiations started.

The development marks a major shift in New Delhi's policy as this is the first time ever that India will attend a forum in which the Taliban will be present.

Facing a barrage of questions on its sudden shift in policy on attending talks with the Taliban, the Centre on Friday clarified that its delegation at the second 12-nation "Moscow format meeting of consultations on Afghanistan" would not hold direct talks with the insurgent group there. The US and India also pulled out of the talks prompting Russian Federation to postpone the "Moscow format" talks indefinitely.

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

"This conference is not about holding negotiations with any party whatsoever; rather it is about finding a peaceful solution to the issue of Afghanistan".

"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.

At the end of October, Mujahid noted that the five high-level Taliban members transferred from the American prison in Guantánamo to Qatar in exchange for U.S. Army deserter, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will be among the group's representatives negotiating peace from Qatar. "I have no doubts that the other participants of the Moscow format share this approach and that we all go by basic national interests of the Afghan people".

Sources privy to the discussions Friday told The Indian Express that the Indian representatives - former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan Amar Sinha and former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan T C A Raghavan - did not make any statement on behalf of New Delhi at the meeting.

"The fact that the Afghan government did not send an official representative sends a message that they are not fully committed to these talks", Yuri Barmin, a fellow with the Russian International Affairs Council, told Al Jazeera on Friday.

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