Taliban: Russia meeting 'not about direct talks' with Kabul

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Western officials and Ghani's government view the Moscow meeting with some suspicion, seeing it as an attempt by Russian Federation to push its way into a process that they say must be led by Afghanistan.

The U.S. sent an observer from its Moscow embassy to the meeting after it refused to attend the September talks, saying they wouldn't help efforts to end the conflict.

He further stated, "India supports all efforts at peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan that will preserve unity and plurality, and bring security, stability and prosperity to the country".

"And we've been clear that no government, including Russian Federation, can be a substitute for the Afghan government in direct negotiations with the Taliban", Palladino said.

HPC officials said they would send a delegation, led by Hajji Deen Mohammad, the deputy head of the peace council but that no talks would be held with the Taliban. After the Afghan government cancelled its participation, India too followed suit on the pretext that it would be untenable for New Delhi's representatives to share the table with a Taliban delegation - when Afghanistan's democratically-elected government would be staying away.

As well as the five-member Taliban delegation, Russian Federation brought to the meeting several senior Afghan political figures, including some who have clashed with Ghani in the past.

China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are among other participants.

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While the Moscow meeting isn't likely to yield concrete results, Russia's intervention is taking place as President Donald Trump's administration has stepped up diplomatic activity, twice sending officials to meet with the Taliban in recent months and appointing a veteran envoy to advise on Afghan peace.

Sources said the Indian government took the decision to send former diplomats in consultation with the Afghan government. The Moscow-format meeting on Afghanistan will be held on 9 November and representatives of the Afghan Taliban radical movement will take part in it, the Russian Foreign Ministry had said last week.

US officials have held two meetings with the Qatar-based Taliban negotiators since July.

US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells was in Islamabad from November 6-7 for talks on Afghanistan and terror financing.

This week, Prime Minister Imran Khan held meetings with Chinese president, prime minister, chairman national people's congress and vice president and discussed the entire gamut of bilateral relations and regional and worldwide issues, including possibility of talks with India, situation in Afghanistan, and counter terrorism cooperation. But this time, it has managed to carefully balance Russian and U.S. interests, as it is sending the Afghan High Peace Council's representatives, instead of its foreign ministry representatives. The attack on an army outpost in Takhar province happened as the US envoy, Khalilzad arrived in Afghanistan to kick off his peace tour.

He told reporters at a Wednesday afternoon news briefing in Washington that the United States "stands ready to work with all interested parties to support and facilitate a peace process". Even as the talks began, officials in Afghanistan said a Taliban attack had killed 10 soldiers.

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