MOSCOW: A delegation of Taliban officials is set to hold talks in Moscow with prominent Afghan figures, including former President Hamid Karzai, but no government officials.
The February 5 meeting was criticized by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s office and comes as broader peace talks aimed at ending the country’s 17-year war appear to be gaining momentum.
The Russian government has denied organizing the meeting, which is being hosted by a Moscow-based organization of Afghan diaspora leaders.
However, it’s highly unlikely such a high-profile event would be allowed to take place in the Russian capital without the Kremlin’s blessing.
Afghanistan’s chief executive, Abdullah, said the Afghan government should be at the center of any peace talks, saying that Kabul “would prefer the Moscow meeting had a different shape.”
He also said the Taliban is the biggest obstacle to peace, but that if the Moscow meeting creates “an opening for real peace talks, it would still be a step forward.”
The United States, meanwhile, has not commented publicly on the meeting, which will include a 10-member Taliban delegation led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai.
Also expected to attend are powerful Afghan warlords- turned-politicians.
In a post to Twitter, Karzai said he would be bringing to the talks “a message of peace, unity sovereignty and progress for all of us.”
Along with Karzai, the former president, many of the 38 delegates from Kabul have held prominent government positions.
Among them is potential presidential candidate Hanif Atmar, who resigned as Ghani’s security adviser in August.
Former Vice President Mohammad Yunus Qanuni and former Balkh Governor Atta Mohammad Noor are also on the list of participants, along with former Taliban insurgents who reconciled with the Afghan government.
Since his appointment last September, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been holding separate negotiations with the Taliban, and he’s also pressed for talks to bring together all major parties to the conflict.