AUG 22, 2018: Russia said on Tuesday that the Taliban had accepted an invitation for talks next month, in what promises to be one of the insurgent group’s biggest diplomatic forays since the 2001 US-led invasion.
The announcement of the planned talks comes as the Taliban have expanded their footprint across Afghanistan and launched an unrelenting wave of attacks, including a prolonged assault on Ghazni, a strategic city near Kabul, earlier this month.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow invited the Taliban to the Sept 4 talks and was hoping for “productive” negotiations. “The first reaction was positive, they are planning to take part in the meeting,” he added.
The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement the talks in Moscow would include representatives of Russia, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iran and India, and were intended to “help advance the process of national reconciliation in Afghanistan and establish peace in the country as soon as possible”. It said other countries, including the United States, have also been invited to attend.
There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.
Mr Lavrov reaffirmed that Russia’s contacts with the Taliban aimed to ensure the safety of Russian citizens in Afghanistan and encourage the insurgents to abandon hostilities and engage in a dialogue with the government.
An IS affiliate in Afghanistan has staged several devastating attacks in recent years and has repeatedly clashed with the Taliban. The IS branch is seen as particularly threatening to Russia because it includes a large number of battle-hardened Uzbek militants.
Moscow has also grown increasingly critical of US actions as relations with Washington have soured in recent years, and is stepping up its own diplomatic outreach across the region.
In recent weeks, the Taliban have also raised their diplomatic profile by sending official delegations to Uzbekistan and Indonesia, and say they held talks with a senior US diplomat in Qatar earlier this month. The group has refused direct talks with the Afghan government, which it views as a US puppet, saying it will only negotiate the end of the 17-year war directly with Washington.