Indian team to join Taliban for Moscow meet on Afghanistan

India on Thursday said it will participate in a “non-official level” meeting on Afghanistan hosted by Russia in Moscow where representatives of the Taliban are also expected to be present.

The meeting is scheduled for today and representatives of the Afghan Taliban radical movement will take part in it, the Russian foreign ministry said last week.
But Russia’s attempts to position itself as a key player on Afghanistan have not quite taken off, seeing that both Afghanistan and India are sending non-official delegations to the Moscow meeting.
“Our participation at the meeting will be at the non-official level,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Thursday, without giving details.
India supports all efforts at peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan that will preserve unity and plurality, and bring security, stability and prosperity to the country, Kumar said.
“India’s consistent policy has been that such efforts should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled and with the participation of the government of Afghanistan,” he said.
According to Russian news agency TASS, this is the second time Russia is attempting to bring regional powers together to seek peace in Afghanistan.
The first such meeting, proposed for 4 September this year, was called off at the last moment after the Afghan government pulled out, describing its involvement in the Moscow meeting as “unnecessary” as the Taliban had “disrespected internationally-sanctioned principles and rejected the message of peace and direct negotiations”.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, invitations to take part in the event had been sent to Afghanistan, India, Iran, China, Pakistan, the US and some other countries.
The meeting comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin recently held talks on a host of global issues. India and Russia had resolved to direct their activities towards launching joint development and capacity building projects in Afghanistan.
People familiar with planning for the meeting, being held under the “Moscow format” launched last year, said India’s non-official delegation will comprise two retired diplomats – TCA Raghavan, a former envoy to Pakistan, and Amar Sinha, a former ambassador to Afghanistan.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani earlier decided to send a non-official delegation from the High Peace Council, including its deputy heads Haji Deen Mohammad and Habiba Surabi.
The Taliban is sending a delegation from its political office in Qatar, reportedly led by Sher Abbas Stanekzai, and this is possibly the first time Taliban leaders and any Indian representatives, official or otherwise, will participate in such talks.
US participation too will be low key, with the state department saying an official from the US embassy in Moscow will observe the discussions. Spokesman Robert Palladino said the US believes “no government, including Russia, can be a substitute for the Afghan government in direct negotiations with the Taliban”.
India has so far not taken a public stand on negotiations with the Taliban, whose leadership is largely based in Pakistan and supported by that country’s military and intelligence establishments. The US has launched a quiet drive, spearheaded by its special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, to engage with the Taliban in Qatar that has not gone down well with Kabul.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Moscow meeting is “not about negotiating with any particular side (but) about holding comprehensive discussions” for a peaceful solution and “ending the American occupation”.
Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management, said Russia had adopted the premise that Pakistan should be a “dominant force” in finding a solution in Afghanistan even though such an approach hasn’t worked for the US and China.
“The Indian position is that you have to have Pakistan out of the equation, because Pakistan is part of the problem and not the solution,” he said.