12 March 2021
Moscow is set to host a conference on Afghanistan on March 18 and has invited several regional players, including Taliban representatives.
It comes at a crucial time for the peace process before a May 1 deadline for foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan.
The United States has drafted a peace plan calling for the current Afghan government to be replaced with an interim administration until a new constitution is agreed and elections held, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has refused to step aside for a transitional government.
“The formation of an interim coalition government should be decided by the Afghans themselves during national reconciliation negotiations,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters at her weekly briefing.
“At the same time, we have noted that the formation of an interim, inclusive administration would be a logical solution to the problem of integrating the Taliban into Afghanistan’s peaceful political life.”
The US-drafted peace plan suggests that under the interim Afghan administration, the National Assembly could either be expanded to include members of the Taliban or suspended until after the election.
Moscow has said its conference next week is meant to support peace talks held in Doha, which have struggled to yield any breakthroughs.
A source close to the Taliban told the Reuters news agency, on condition of anonymity, that a team of four or five members of the Taliban’s political office in Doha would attend the Moscow conference.
Earlier on Friday, Turkey said it would also host Afghan peace talks in April in Istanbul.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said: “Both the Taliban and the negotiation delegation, meaning the government side, had asked us to host such a meeting before.
“We will do this [meeting] in coordination with brotherly Qatar,” he added in reference to a separate round of talks staged in Doha.
The scheduled US withdrawal is being complicated by a new surge in fighting and concern that a speedy exit may only unleash further chaos.
Cavusoglu signalled that he did not necessarily expect the Istanbul meeting to produce an immediate breakthrough.
“Our aim is to pursue negotiations between the Taliban and the government that are focused on a result,” the Anadolu state news agency quoted him as saying.
“Maybe a ceasefire can not be obtained but it is a continuing process,” he said.
“We are giving a message to the Taliban. We are saying them to end the attacks. We are telling them there can be no real negotiations while the attacks continue.”
Russia Backs Plan for Afghanistan Interim Rule with Taliban
KABUL: Russia said Friday it backed the Taliban’s integration into a future interim government in Afghanistan, as global powers ramped up efforts to secure a peace deal and end decades of war.
The country’s foreign ministry comments come as a May deadline looms for the United States to end its two-decade military involvement in the ravaged country.
Washington has encouraged the Afghan leadership to work towards establishing an “inclusive” government and proposed talks with the Taliban to secure a peace accord.
“The formation of an interim inclusive administration would be a logical solution to the problem of integrating the Taliban into the peaceful political life of Afghanistan,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters ahead of talks next week in Moscow.
But she added that the decision should be made “by the Afghans themselves and should be resolved during negotiations on national reconciliation.”
US President Joe Biden is wrapping up a review on whether to stick to an agreement with the Taliban negotiated by his predecessor Donald Trump who wanted to pull out the final US troops from Afghanistan by May.
The so-called Doha Accord signed in the Qatari capital last year underscored Trump’s desire to end long-running US military involvement.
But the Biden administration has signaled that it wants to take a hard look at Trump’s deal and its repercussions for Afghanistan and regional stability.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote a letter to Afghan leaders encouraging them to consider a “new, inclusive government.” He also proposed that talks take place within weeks in Turkey to seal a comprehensive peace deal with the Taliban.
Blinken’s letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said bluntly that Washington feared the “security situation will worsen and the Taliban could make rapid territorial gains” if the United States suddenly withdrew.
Blinken proposed a 90-day reduction in violence that would avoid the Taliban’s annual bloody spring offensive.
He added that Washington was asking the United Nations to convene a meeting of foreign ministers from Afghanistan’s neighbors on ensuring future stability.
But the Afghan leadership has responded to Blinken’s letter with extreme caution.
However, Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh said the country’s fate could not be decided by “20 people in a room”.
Moscow is due to host talks next week between members of the Afghan government and the Taliban, the Kremlin’s latest effort to cement its role as a broker in the conflict, decades after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan ended.
All the invited participants in the consultations of the expanded “trio” on a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan scheduled to be held in Moscow on March 18 have confirmed their participation, Russian News Agency TASS reported on Friday.
Russian Special Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan and Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Second Asian Department Zamir Kabulov confirmed the development to TASS. “Yes, that’s all for now,” he said.
When asked whether US representatives will take part in the consultations, he said that US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad had likewise confirmed his participation.
On March 11, the US Department of State declined to specify whether US officials would take part in the consultations on Afghanistan in Moscow. On March 9, Kabulov told TASS that Russia had invited the United States, China, Pakistan, representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban group (outlawed in Russia), as well as Afghan political figures, to Moscow for consultations on a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.