The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday that it has invited representatives from both the internationally-recognized government of Afghanistan and the Taliban terrorist insurgency to September 4 peace talks in Moscow.
The Washington Post noted the Taliban refused a similar invitation from Russia last year. The United States also refused, which indicated it will not attend the new meeting either.
“The initial response has been positive,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“We support Afghan-owned and led initiatives to advance a peace settlement in Afghanistan. We believe this initiative is unlikely to yield any progress toward that end,” said a spokesman for the State Department.
Representatives of the Taliban reportedly met with a senior U.S. diplomat in Qatar at the end of July without representatives of the Kabul government present. The terrorist group regards the Kabul government as illegitimate and insists on direct negotiations with the United States.
The Russian forum would put the Taliban on an equal footing with the Afghan government in a conference attended by eleven other countries, including China, Iran, India, and Pakistan — a situation with which the State Department evidently is not comfortable.
Kabul was not pleased with the idea either as a senior official declined Russia’s invitation on Wednesday afternoon. The official added that President Ashraf Ghani’s government is willing to hold “direct talks” with the Taliban without the involvement of foreign powers.
Foreign Minister Lavrov rejected accusations from Kabul that Russia wishes to cultivate the Taliban as an ally against the Islamic State, which has grown more active in Afghanistan.
“I can’t even hypothetically imagine how Russia could use the Taliban for fighting the IS,” Lavrov said.
“We fight the IS with all means available, we support Syria in that struggle, we help equip the Iraqi army for the same goal and we naturally would like to see the people of Afghanistan getting rid of the IS,” he added.
A statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry less tactfully declared it was “deplorable” for the Afghan government to jeopardize “partnership and mutual trust” with Russia by suggesting Moscow is secretly working with the Taliban.
Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar countered on Wednesday that Russia should use its influence with the Taliban to pressure the insurgents to enter direct negotiations with Kabul.