Saturday, 17 November, 2018

Talks on Afghanistan, never said with Taliban, MEA spokesperson clarifies

US diplomat Alice Wells meets Additional Secretary FO Aftab Khokhar on November 6. — Foreign Office  File US diplomat Alice Wells meets Additional Secretary FO Aftab Khokhar on November 6. — Foreign Office File
Steven Clarke | 09 November, 2018, 19:03

He said 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. "It was decided by the government that our participation will be at non-official level", he said.

Moscow on Friday hosted worldwide talks on Afghanistan aimed at kickstarting direct negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban militant group, both of whom sent delegations.

While the Afghan Foreign Ministry won't participate in the meeting on Friday, the Afghan High Peace Council - a government-appointed body tasked to talk to Taliban on the reconciliation process - will be there.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said the participation of both Afghan leaders and the Taliban was an "important contribution" aimed at creating "favourable conditions for the start of direct talks".

In a statement issued this week by the Taliban, the group said: "Taliban political envoys will attend the meeting but the participation does not mean they will hold talks with anyone".

When asked why India's stand had undergone a significant shift vis-à-vis the Taliban, government officials said that the decision was the outcome of "close discussions with the Afghanistan government", and it was felt necessary for India to have a "presence" there.

"The meeting will discuss the end of American invasion, identify problems and deliberate on regional peace", Mujahid said in a brief statement.

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"The United States believes that all countries should support direct dialogue between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban to reach an end to the war and we have been clear that no government, including Russian Federation, can be a substitute for the Afghan government in direct negotiations with the Taliban".

India joined talks with the Taliban for the first in a multilateral meeting on Friday on Russia's invitation for a peace call.

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai also announced his intention to attend the conference saying, "any possibility of peace talks with the Taliban should not be ignored".

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry's statement, all the invited countries except the United States confirmed their participation. "We will see what happens in the meeting", he said.

But Russian diplomats say off-record that the United States will be indirectly involved and informed.

The first round of the Moscow format was held on April 14 previous year, when India was represented by Mittal, along with deputy foreign ministers and senior officials from Afghanistan, China, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. "This is a meeting to debate the current situation in Afghanistan".

The Taliban's attendance will bolster the group's global status, while the meeting gives Moscow the chance to influence peace efforts until now dominated by Washington.

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