Afghan politicians will attend a two-day meeting with the Taliban in the Russian capital this week in an effort to end about two decades of the US occupation of Afghanistan.
The meeting, set to be held on May 28-29, comes at a time of enhanced diplomatic efforts to revive stalled talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on Monday that a 14-member delegation was heading to Moscow, led by Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the group’s top political leader. Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, the Taliban’s chief negotiator, will also attend the talks.
The delegation is also expected to meet Afghan politicians and elders on Wednesday to discuss the future of the country.
From the Afghan political establishment, former President Hamid Karzai is set to make an appearance on the sidelines for informal talks. A spokesman for the former president confirmed that he was travelling to Moscow along with officials from his office.
And a spokesman for Afghanistan’s high peace council, tasked with helping facilitate peace talks between Kabul government and the Taliban, will attend, said Karim Khalili, who heads the body.
The potential talks would mark the second time leaders from the militant group have met with opposition leaders in Russia. In February, a rare summit that saw the former foes praying together and chatting over meals.
The Taliban have so far refused to negotiate with the government of President Ashraf Ghani, who has said talks should include Kabul. President Ghani has recently announced his government’s own spring offensive, dubbed Operation Khalid, against the militant group last month.
A sixth round of talks between the US and Taliban ended in the Qatari capital Doha with no tangible progress. The Taliban have said peace negotiations were stumbling over the fundamental question of when foreign forces would depart the war-ravaged country.
The US, however, has refused to agree to a withdrawal as part of an eventual deal until the Taliban put in place security guarantees, a ceasefire, and other commitments.
Moscow appears to be gaining influence in the ongoing process. last month, the US announced that Washington had reached a consensus with China and Russia on the key formula for a peace deal it is negotiating in Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end following the US invasion of the country in 2001. However, 18 years on, Washington is seeking truce with the militants, who still control large swathes of land in the country.