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Afghan leaders vow to sit with Taliban for peace in Moscow

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Senior Afghan political leaders, including former president Hamid Karzai and presidential candidate Haneef Atmar, Sunday confirmed that they will join other political leaders in talks with Taliban political envoys in Russia this week in order to explore ways for reconciliation in the war-ravaged country.

Karzai in a statement welcomed the Moscow meeting on Feb 5-6 and described it the first step towards an intra-Afghan dialogue where the participants will evolve consensus in support of the peace process.

This will be the first time Karzai will meet Taliban leaders since 2001, when the US toppled the Taliban government. Karzai was installed as interim leader at the Bonn international conference in December 2001. Taliban had rejected repeated calls by Karzai for talks in the past.

Atmar, who served as Ghani’s top security adviser until recently, will also have the opportunity to meet the Taliban as he also confirmed on Sunday that he will be attending the Moscow moot. Describing the meeting as significant for an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue, Atmar urged the government to respect the aspirations of the Afghan nation.

Government officials, however, condemned political leaders’ possible participation in the Moscow meeting. President Ashraf Ghani’s senior adviser Fazal Mahmood Fazli wrote on Twitter that the people who were considered as founders of the democratic system have now trampled all values only because of their differences with the government.

Afghan deputy foreign minister Idrees Zaman also voiced his opposition to the Moscow talks. The organizers had also invited the High Peace Council but it declined the invitation.

For the first time, Russia was able to invite and bring Taliban at an international forum in Moscow last November, which gave the Taliban wider international acceptance as a genuine political stakeholder in Afghanistan. This also helped do away with the negative tag on Taliban being purely an insurgent group which is not willing to talk. Russia has once again taken an important step by hosting various Afghan political groups for an intra-Afghan dialogue at a neutral location like Moscow. By organizing the meeting in Moscow, Russia has demonstrated that those who matter in deciding the future of Afghanistan must be there.

As hopes are growing for peace in Afghanistan through a negotiated settlement following the last month’s Doha round of talks, it is becoming apparent that it is a complex multi-layered process which will involve the Afghans, regional countries and the international community at various stages of negotiations.

Published in Daily Times, February 4th 2019.

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