Taliban representatives have reaffirmed their group’s position that they will not hold direct talks with Afghanistan’s Western-backed government, as they attended Russian-hosted international talks aimed at bringing an end to the country’s long-running conflict.
Moscow, which said it invited representatives from the United States, India, Iran, China and Pakistan, as well as five former Soviet republics in Central Asia, hailed Friday’s meetings as an opportunity to “open a new page” in Afghanistan’s history.
The Kabul government did not send a delegation.
Instead, members of the High Peace Council (HPC), a government-appointed body responsible for reconciliation efforts with the Taliban, attended the event, where they repeated Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of peace talks without pre-conditions.
The meetings ended without the sides agreeing on a path to direct dialogue, the delegations from the Taliban and HPC said.
“This conference was not about direct talks,” Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, Taliban spokesperon, told journalists in translated comments quoted by Interfax news agency.
The Taliban “does not recognise the current government as legal and therefore we won’t hold talks with them”, he added.
“Considering our main demand is the withdrawal of foreign forces, we will discuss a peaceful resolution with the Americans.”
For his part, HPC represantive Eshan Taheri said that Kabul was ready for direct talks with the group.
“We confirmed to them [Taliban representatives] that we are ready to go on negotiations without conditions,” he said.
“We asked them to define a date and place for the direct talks. The meeting in Moscow helped move things in this direction.”
Haji Din Mohammad Azizullah, head of the Kabul delegation, confirmed that he had “brief talks” with the Taliban members at a working lunch, characterising the talks as “friendly”, according to Anadolu Agency.
Russia says the Moscow talks marked the first time that a Taliban delegation had taken part in such high-level international meeting.
In a final communique, the Russian foreign ministry said that the participants “agreed to continue consultations within the framework of this mechanism”.
The talks came while the Taliban have increased the pressure on Afghan police and troops this year, even as they have also shown a tentative willingness to hold talks with the United States.
The Moscow meeting was initially scheduled for September but was postponed after Kabul insisted the process should be Afghan-led.
Meanwhile, Taliban representatives in Qatar held a preliminary meeting with US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad last month to discuss the group’s conditions to end the 17-year war.
“The fact that the Afghan government did not send an official representative sends a message that they are not fully committed to these talks,” Yuri Barmin, a fellow with the Russian International Affairs Council, told Al Jazeera on Friday.