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Afghan and Taliban politicians to meet in Moscow despite Kabul protest

Afghan and Taliban politicians to meet in Moscow despite Kabul protest

Senior Afghan politicians, including former President Hamid Karzai, are set to meet with Taliban representatives in Moscow on Tuesday, weeks after the US and Taliban hailed progress towards a peace deal.

The meeting will mark the most significant contact between Afghan politicians and the Taliban in years, but has angered Afghan President Ashraf Ghani whose government has once again been excluded from talks concerning Afghanistan’s future.

The two-day gathering comes shortly after the United States and Taliban hailed progress towards a peace deal that would end almost two decades of war. Those discussions also excluded the Kabul government at the insistence of the Taliban.

President Ghani has spoken out against the Moscow gathering between his government opposition and the insurgent Taliban which has continued to refuse to meet with sitting Afghan officials.

The Moscow sit-down will be attended by Ghani’s chief political rivals, but none of the government envoys tasked with negotiations with the Taliban.

Ghani has criticized such initiatives for undermining the peace process concerning the struggling Afghan state, as Taliban officials have appeared ready to meet with anyone- including the US and Russia– except for the sitting government.

Last month, the US and the Taliban met in Doha for talks which excluded the Kabul government. After the week of netotians, both the US and Taliban hailed the success of the meetings, and US envoy

Ghani has appealed to the insurgents to talk after being frozen out of six days of discussions between the Taliban and the United States in Doha last month that sealed the outlines of a peace deal.

Instead the Taliban, which refuses to recognise Ghani’s government, will sit down in Moscow with some of the president’s main opponents to discuss the country’s future — stirring frustrations in Kabul.

Among those who have confirmed their attendance in Moscow is Haneef Atmar, who is running against Ghani in the elections. Former warlord Atta Muhammad Noor and former Afghan president Hamid Karzai — both Ghani rivals — are also attending.

Noor on Sunday said the meeting was “a pathway towards strengthening the peace efforts led by the US” while Atmar described it as “an important step towards intra-Afghan peace talks”.

A government-appointed council tasked with Taliban engagement said Sunday it was not invited to Moscow.

A senior Taliban official told AFP they would send a delegation, but described the meeting as non-political and “arranged by some organizations based in Moscow”.

The Russian Embassy in Kabul issued a statement late Saturday on behalf of the “Afghan Society of Russia”. The group said it had invited “influential figures” to the dialogue in the President Hotel in Moscow.

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

“We are ready to play our role in bringing peace to Afghanistan,” the statement read.

It is not clear what role, if any, Russia has in the summit. A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Kabul could not be reached for comment.

The Taliban are scheduled to hold another round of peace talks with the US in Doha on February 25.

The insurgents said discussions were “on the right path” — fuelling speculation of a breakthrough in the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan.

US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad spoke of a “draft framework” for a deal but warned major hurdles — including any US withdrawal — remain.

Ghani has refused to accept a “temporary” deal.

“Even if I have one drop of blood in my body, I am not going to surrender to a temporary peace deal,” he told Afghan commandos in Kabul on Sunday.

“Our goal is to have a peace that comes with dignity.”

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