Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
May 28, 2019
Hosting Taliban delegates and Afghan politicians in an effort to promote itself as a peacemaker in Afghanistan, Russia has called for the complete withdrawal of international forces from the war-ravaged country.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke at a May 28 ceremony in Moscow marking what the government says is the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Russia and Afghanistan.
The ceremony was followed by talks between the Taliban members and Afghan politicians, including senior regional leaders and candidates challenging President Ashraf Ghani in a presidential election due to be held in September.
“We are calling for a total pullout of foreign forces from the country. We are calling on all Afghan sides to start talks as soon as possible involving a broad range of social and political forces,” Lavrov said in welcoming the Taliban delegation, despite the fact that the militant movement is designated a terrorist organization in Russia.
The remarks appeared aimed in part at the United States, which has thousands of troops in Afghanistan nearly two decades after leading an invasion that ousted the Taliban from power following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States because the Islamic extremists were harboring Al-Qaeda leaders.
“Russia is convinced that there is no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan,” Lavrov said. “The only possible way…is to achieve peace by political and diplomatic means.”
The leader of the Taliban delegation, chief Taliban negotiator Mullah Baradar Akhund, said later that the group “wants peace but the first step is to remove obstacles to peace and end the occupation of Afghanistan.”
The meeting in Moscow comes amid a push by the United States for a peace settlement with the Taliban as fighting and attacks persist. Afghan officials said on May 28 that a a total of at least 23 members of the security forces were killed in two Taliban attacks targeting security checkpoints, one in western Ghor province and one in Logar province in the east.
The meeting in Moscow comes amid a push by the United States for a peace settlement with the Taliban as fighting and attacks persist.
Afghan officials said on May 28 that a total of at least 23 members of the security forces were killed in two Taliban attacks targeting security checkpoints, one in western Ghor Province and one in Logar Province in the east.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. envoy seeking a peace deal with the Taliban, has held several rounds of talks with the militants in Qatar in recent months.
The sides have made progress, but the Taliban has so far rejected the idea of direct negotiations with the Afghan government, and a summit planned for April in Qatar was canceled.
Advocates of talks like those held in Moscow say meetings between Taliban members and political figures not formally associated with the Afghan government are a way of laying groundwork for broader negotiations, but critics contend that they undermine the government and strengthen the Taliban.
After the Soviet military withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 following an unsuccessful nine-year war of occupation and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, partly due to the cost of the conflict in terms of money and morale, Moscow had less involvement in Afghanistan. But Russia has been assuming a more prominent role in diplomacy over Afghanistan in recent years, as President Vladimir Putin has sought to increase its clout around the world.
Taliban officials met a delegation of powerful Afghan power brokers in Moscow in November and February, but those talks did not include members of Ghani’s government.
Khalilzad welcomed Russia’s efforts in the peace process, although some U.S. officials have said Moscow is promoting itself as a power broker in order to challenge the U.S.-backed peace process with the Taliban in Qatar.
The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a 23,000-strong NATO-led mission that is training and assisting the government’s security forces in their fight against Taliban militants and other extremist groups such as Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, Reuters, TASS, Interfax, and AFP