Taliban to meet Afghan opposition in Moscow: official

KABUL, Feb 04 (INP): The Taliban said Sunday it will send a delegation to Russia for a rare meeting with Afghan opposition leaders, just days after peace talks with the United States that excluded the Kabul government.

The two-day sit-down in Moscow, starting Tuesday, will be attended by some of President Ashraf Ghani’s chief political rivals, but none of the government envoys tasked with Taliban negotiations.

Ghani has appealed to the insurgents to talk after being frozen out of six days of discussions between the Taliban and the United States in Doha last month that sealed the outlines of a peace deal. Instead the Taliban, which refuses to recognise Ghani’s government, will sit down in Moscow with some of the president’s main opponents to discuss the country’s future — stirring frustrations in Kabul. “It shows the peak of depression, and begging to terrorists,” said Amrullah Saleh, who is running as vice-president on Ghani’s ticket in elections slated for July. “A smile to the enemy is a blow to the national spirit,” he posted on his Facebook page on Sunday. Among those who have confirmed their attendance in Moscow is Haneef Atmar, who is running against Ghani in the elections. Former warlord Atta Muhammad Noor and former Afghan president Hamid Karzai — both Ghani rivals — are also attending. Noor on Sunday said the meeting was “a pathway towards strengthening the peace efforts led by the US” while Atmar described it as “an important step towards intra-Afghan peace talks”. A government-appointed council tasked with Taliban engagement said Sunday it was not invited to Moscow. A senior Taliban official told reporters they would send a delegation, but described the meeting as non-political and “arranged by some organizations based in Moscow”. The Russian Embassy in Kabul issued a statement late Saturday on behalf of the “Afghan Society of Russia”. The group said it had invited “influential figures” to the dialogue in the President Hotel in Moscow. “We are ready to play our role in bringing peace to Afghanistan,” the statement read. It is not clear what role, if any, Russia has in the summit. A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Kabul could not be reached for comment. The Taliban are scheduled to hold another round of peace talks with the US in Doha on February 25. The insurgents said discussions were “on the right path” — fuelling speculation of a breakthrough in the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan. US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad spoke of a “draft framework” for a deal but warned major hurdles — including any US withdrawal — remain. Ghani has refused to accept a “temporary” deal. “Even if I have one drop of blood in my body, I am not going to surrender to a temporary peace deal,” he told Afghan commandos in Kabul on Sunday. “Our goal is to have a peace that comes with dignity.” INP/AJ