A Taliban official says “decent progress” has been made at talks with a group of senior Afghan politicians in Moscow, but there is no breakthrough and further talks would be needed, Russian news agencies reported.
The Taliban delegation, led by chief negotiator Mullah Baradar Akhund, met Afghan politicians, including senior regional leaders and candidates planning to challenge President Ashraf Ghani in this year’s presidential election, as diplomatic efforts to end the 18-year-long war gather pace.
The Taliban insists that international forces must leave Afghanistan for peace to be agreed.
“The Islamic Emirate wants peace but the first step is to remove obstacles to peace and end the occupation of Afghanistan,” Baradar said, appearing openly on television in what appeared to be a calculated move to establish his legitimacy as one of the main public faces of the Taliban.
The Taliban, overthrown by US-backed forces weeks after the September 11, 2001 attacks, refers to the country as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
The meeting in Moscow was opened on Tuesday by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said that his country sees peace as the only possible scenario of settlement in Afghanistan.
Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Taliban delegates reiterated their position that no ceasefire could be possible while foreign forces remained inside Afghanistan.
Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, Taliban’s political chief, said “no other option” was possible.
Mohammad Karim Khalili, the head of the High Peace Council, the main body charged with pursuing peace efforts, said dozens of people were being killed in fighting every day and it was time for a “dignified and just mechanism” to end the bloodshed.
Taliban officials have been talking to US diplomats for months about the terms of withdrawal of more than 23,000 US and NATO coalition troops from Afghanistan.
They have reached a draft agreement on some issues, but no new date for the next round of talks has been set and many obstacles remain.
The Taliban’s refusal to deal directly with President Ghani’s Western-backed government in Kabul, which the group dismisses as a “puppet” regime, remains one of the key issues.