Successful’ Moscow talks set off alarm bells in Afghanistan

Successful’ Moscow talks set off alarm bells in Afghanistan

Ordinary Afghans and political observers say they fear the talks hosted by Russia last week have harmed the prospect of long-term peace and given the Taliban insurgents the upper hand in negotiations with the United States.

The two-day Moscow ­meeting was the first time senior Afghan politicians held talks with the militants ­directly, and the resulting joint ­declaration issued on Wednesday ­endorsed some of the group’s demands, such as the ­complete withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, the release of Taliban ­prisoners and removal of Taliban leaders from a UN blacklist.

In an unlikely photo-op afterwards, Taliban members and mainstream politicians – including former president Hamid Karzai, former ­national security adviser Hanif Atmar, opposition leader Atta ­Mohammad Noor and ­Mohammad Mohaqiq, who was last month sacked as deputy chief executive by President Ashraf Ghani – stood side by side and declared the meeting a success.

“It depends on what you see as success,” Hekmatullah Azamy, deputy director at the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies in Kabul, told The ­National.

“If getting the Afghan side to sit with the Taliban, then it was surely a success, but we should measure success with how the US views this meeting.”

Washington has made no official comment, but did not voice its opposition.

Mr Azamy acknowledged that the US stance on the involvement of Russia and even Iran in Afghan affairs had changed since special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad took charge of the peace effort in September, holding several rounds of talks with the Taliban at their political office in Doha, and also in Abu Dhabi.

“The US had no objection with the Afghan elites attending this meeting,” he said, comparing it with Moscow’s failed attempt to hold a similar meeting last year that was abandoned after Afghan politicians chose not to attend, fearing US disapproval.

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