Taliban Talks in Moscow: Russia Calls for Withdrawal of Foreign Troops

Afghan leaders, Taliban attend peace talks in Moscow
AFP Yuri KADOBNOV

Russia on Wednesday is expected to host an intra-Afghan conference in Moscow including a Taliban delegation and mainly anti-President Ashraf Ghani politicians to discuss a negotiated political settlement between the terrorist group and Kabul to end of the war raging since October 2001.

On Tuesday, the Taliban and Afghan delegates, including some from the Ghani administration, attended a meeting marking the 100th anniversary of the diplomatic friendship between Moscow and Kabul, according to the Russian foreign ministry, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported.

Afghan diplomats in Moscow and the head of Afghanistan’s government body known as the High Peace Council (HPC) attended Tuesday’s event despite the Taliban’s ongoing reluctance to allow the Ghani administration to participate in the talks, Voice of America (VOA) noted on Monday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in opening Tuesday’s event, suggested the Kremlin and the Taliban have “a shared aim – fighting terrorism.”

The Pentagon has long accused of Russia of backing the Afghan Taliban, with Moscow citing concerns about the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) violence spilling over to former Soviet Republics in Central Asia that border Russia.

Russia has officially deemed that Taliban a terrorist organization, but that has not stopped the Kremlin from lending support to the group, saying their mutual goals coincide when it comes to defeating ISIS’s South Asia branch.

Echoing the Taliban’s long-standing position that it will not engage in peace talks with Kabul until the full withdrawal of foreign troops, Lavrov reportedly declared: “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.”

Consistent with the Kremlin’s position, the leader of the Taliban delegation, chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, reportedly said that the narco-jihadi group was “committed to peace” but “believes that, first of all, the obstacle on the way to peace must be removed, which means ending the occupation of Afghanistan.”

Baradar’s comments in Moscow mark the first ever public media appearance for the Taliban co-founder, who Pakistan imprisoned for years until his release in 2018.

Like Afghanistan’s neighbor China, Russia appears to support U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to make the negotiated reconciliation between Kabul and the Taliban the primary tenet of its strategy to end the more than 17-year-old war, at least in principle.

China and Russia have expressed support for U.S.-NATO withdrawal from the region, likely for their gain.

The intra-Afghan conference in Moscow came after VOA reported in late April that Russia and China joined the U.S. in trying to convince the Taliban into talks with the Ghani administration.

It remains unclear if Khalili, other members of the HPC, and the Ghani administration diplomats would be part of Wednesday’s intra-Afghan discussions because the Taliban remains adamant against to allowing anyone associated with the U.S.-backed Kabul government to participate.

The Moscow event marks the second time Russia hosts a meeting between Taliban officials and Afghan opposition politicians following the first interaction in February.

The Taliban considers itself the only legitimate government of Afghanistan and it is fighting to replace the Ghani administration with a sharia-compliant emirate grounded in an extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam.

The Afghanistan war has come at a tremendous price to the Afghans, killing tens of thousands of civilians and security forces, and to the United States — about $3 billion monthly, 2,285 American military deaths, and 20,452 injuries.

The Taliban has repeatedly refused Ghani’s olive branch offer of a ceasefire and official recognition as a political party, a move that could allow that terrorist group to return to office in Kabul, more than 17 years after U.S.-backed local forces removed the organization’s regime in late 2001.

Amid the ongoing Ramadan period, which coincides with peace talks with the United States this year, the Afghan Taliban has surfaced as the most active and deadliest terrorist group in the world, exceeding the carnage at the hands of its Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) rivals, a Breitbart News casualty count during the holiest month for Muslims shows.

The Taliban has actually intensified attacks during the peace talks with the reported help of al-Qaeda-linked Central Asian and Chinese Uighur jihadis.

Echoing the United Nations, Uran Botobekov, an expert in political Islam with a Ph.D. in Political Science from National Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic, recently argued on May 18 that the relationship between the 9/11 jihadi allies the Taliban and al-Qaeda remains strong.

Under draft agreements towards a framework for a peace pact, the Taliban has made counter-terrorism assurances to prevent al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other international jihadis from operating on Afghan soil in exchange for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

Botobekov noted that the Taliban does not intend to cut its ties to al-Qaeda.

The Taliban refused to allow the U.S. to leave behind a residual force to ensure the terrorist group keeps its promises.

Wednesday’s meeting in Moscow comes in the wake of a push by the Trump administration for a peace settlement with the Taliban.

While vowing to keep the unprecedented airstrike campaign and overall military pressure against the Taliban until negotiators achieve a peace agreement, the Trump administration has intensified peace-seeking efforts in recent months.

The U.S reportedly welcomed Russia’s efforts towards an Afghan peace deal.

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