The Taliban and Afghan politicians opposed to President Ashraf Ghani are set to meet in Russia this week, as the United States says it’s making “significant progress” in its negotiations with the group.
The Taliban confirmed on Sunday, it will send a delegation to Russia for a two-day meeting starting on Tuesday in Moscow.
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The Taliban refuses to recognise Ghani’s government, calling it a “puppet” of the US.
Ghani has repeatedly called on the Taliban to begin talks with his government.
He was excluded from six days of discussions between the armed group and the US in Doha last month that reportedly sealed the outline of a peace deal.
“I call on the Taliban to… show their Afghan will, and accept Afghans’ demand for peace, and enter serious talks with the Afghan government,” Ghani said in a televised address from the presidential palace in Kabul last week.
“We should not forget that the victims of this war are Afghans and the peace process should also be Afghan-led… No Afghan wants foreign troops to remain in their country indefinitely. No Afghan wants to face suicide attacks in hospitals, schools, the mosques, and parks.”
Among those who have confirmed their attendance in Moscow is Haneef Atmar, a former national security adviser who is running against Ghani in presidential elections set for July.
Atmar described the meeting as “an important step towards intra-Afghan peace talks” in a tweet on Sunday.
Powerful ex-Governor Atta Muhammad Noor and former Afghan President Hamid Karzai – both Ghani rivals – are also attending.
The country’s High Peace Council which is not officially part of the government, but is tasked with Taliban engagement said on Saturday it was not invited to Moscow.
The Taliban is scheduled to hold another round of peace talks with the US in Doha on February 25.
Last November, Moscow hosted a multilateral summit to try to find ways to end the war. Delegates from the peace council, the Taliban and officials from a dozen nations attended. The Taliban did not speak directly with the council members.
After meeting the Taliban in Doha last month, Washington’s main negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad said the US and the Taliban have a “draft framework” in place for a deal which could pave the way for peace talks with the Afghan government.
However, major hurdles, including a ceasefire and a withdrawal of foreign forces, remain.
The US has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. Some are part of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission. A separate counterterrorism effort is largely directed at groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.