Russia hosts Taliban delegates, calls for withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan

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KABUL (TCA) — 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, RFE/RL reported.

Russian 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 14-member Taliban delegation and senior Afghan politicians, including 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. The Taliban was harboring Al-Qaeda leaders behind 9/11.

“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 negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, said later that the 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.”

It was the first ever public media appearance for Baradar, a co-founder of the group who was jailed for years in Pakistan before his release last year.

Among the Afghan politicians in attendance were ex-President Hamid Karzai; Atta Mohammad Noor, a powerful figure from northern Afghanistan; Ghani’s former national-security adviser Hanif Atmar, who is contesting the presidential election; and Omar Zakhilwal, the ambassador to Pakistan. Two women were present, including lawmaker Fawzia Koofi.

The meeting in Moscow comes amid a push by the United States for a peace settlement with the Taliban as fighting and attacks persist.

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.

Sergey Kwan

TCA