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Taliban to join Moscow talks without Afghan government officials

Afghan provincial governors and members of the High Peace Council, an organization set up to promote peace talks with the Taliban, gather Dec. 6, in Kandahar City, Afghanistan, to talk about reintegrating former Taliban into society. (Spc. Edward A. Garibay, 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/U.S. Army)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Taliban says it will attend what it calls “intra-Afghan” talks in Moscow designed to bring together prominent Afghan figures, including former President Hamid Karzai, opposition figures, and tribal elders — but no government officials.

The meeting is due to start on February 5 and last for two days. The Moscow-based Council of Afghan Society, an organization of the Afghan diaspora in Russia, said in a statement issued in Kabul on February 4 that it was the organizer of the meeting.

The Russian government has denied organizing the meeting, while the United States has made no comments so far about it.

It comes amid a renewed push aimed at resolving Afghanistan’s 17-year war, a process that has accelerated since the appointment in September of Zalmay Khalilzad as U.S. peace envoy.

Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, confirmed the Taliban’s participation. Their delegation is to be led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai.

The Taliban has refused to talk to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which it views as a U.S. puppet.

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 provincial Governor Atta Mohammad Noor are also on the list of participants, along with former Taliban insurgents who reconciled with the Afghan government.

Khalilzad has been holding separate talks with the Taliban even as he presses for a dialogue that would bring together all key Afghan players.

Ghani’s office criticized the meeting in Moscow, saying that Afghan politicians attending the gathering were doing so “in order to gain power.”

Ghani’s chief adviser, Fazel Fazly, tweeted that it was “regrettable.”