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Russia invites Taliban and Afghan officials to Moscow talks

Afghan politicians and religious leaders attended an intra-Afghan meeting in Russia in February [Getty]

Date of publication: 27 May, 2019

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Moscow appears to be gaining influence in the ongoing peace process between the Taliban and Afghan delegations.

Afghan politicians are set to attend a two-day meeting with the Taliban in Moscow this week, officials confirmed Monday, as fighting continues to rage in Afghanistan amid ongoing peace talks between the US and the militants.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told AFP the insurgents were planning to send a delegation to attend the meeting - set to run from the 27 and 28 of May - but provided no further details.

A spokesman for Afghanistan's high peace council - which is charged with helping facilitate peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban - said Karim Khalili, who heads the body, will also be in attendance.

Former president Hamid Karzai is also set to make an appearance, with his spokesman Yousof Saha suggesting the Afghan and Taliban delegations might meet on the sidelines of the ceremony for informal talks but noted that nothing was guaranteed.

The potential talks would mark the second time leaders from the militant movement have met with opposition leaders in Russia, following a rare sit down between the two sides in February that saw members of the Taliban and Afghan politicians praying together and chatting over meals.   

However, no representatives from the current administration of President Ashraf Ghani were present at those informal talks, spurring fears the administration was being further sidelined in the ongoing peace process.

US-Taliban deadlock

The latest meeting in Moscow comes weeks after a sixth round of talks between the US and Taliban wrapped in Doha with no tangible progress cited by the negotiating teams as Washington continues to push for a settlement with the militants aimed at ending its longest ever war of 18-years in Afghanistan.

The Taliban have said that peace negotiations were stumbling over the fundamental question of when foreign forces would depart Afghanistan.

The US has refused to agree to a withdrawal as part of an eventual deal until the Taliban put in place security guarantees, a ceasefire, and other commitments including an "intra-Afghan" dialogue with the Kabul government and other Afghan representatives.

The Taliban, however, insist they won't do any of these things until the US announces a withdrawal timeline.

Moscow appears to be gaining influence in the ongoing process, with the US announcing last month that Washington had reached a consensus with China and Russia on the key formula for a peace deal it is negotiating in Afghanistan.

Uptick in violence

Meanwhile, a sticky bomb attached to a minibus carrying government workers in Kabul detonated on Monday morning, wounding 10 people, said police spokesman Ferdus Faramarz. One of the wounded was in critical condition.

Arab Haidari, from the religious affairs ministry, said all the wounded are ministry's employees who were on their way to work when the explosion took place. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Both the Taliban and Islamic State militants regularly stage attacks in Kabul.

On Sunday, gunmen shot and killed a prominent religious scholar, Mawlavi Shabir Ahmad Kamawi, in Kabul, and last week, a mosque bombing killed another religious scholar during Friday prayers, also in Kabul.

Attacks have increased recently as Washington's peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, presses ahead with talks with the Taliban, who refuse to negotiate directly with the Kabul government.

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