Afghan rivals say no closer to direct talks after Moscow meeting

Sergey Lavrov said the meeting is meant to seek paths to national reconciliation in Afghanistan

Sergey Lavrov said the meeting is meant to seek paths to national reconciliation in Afghanistan

"Don't know how people are concluding that there will be talks with the Taliban, its a meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow", said Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson of MEA. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has sent a diplomat to observe the discussions.

The MEA spokesperson said India will support any effort to continue the peace process consistent with the policy on Afghanistan - which is Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled and with participation of the Afghanistan government.

The Taliban 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.

A joint statement issued following the summit said that both India and Russian Federation supported the Afghan government's efforts towards the realization of an Afghan-led, and Afghan-owned national peace reconciliation process.

Moscow has also invited representatives from the United States, India, Iran, China, Pakistan and five former Soviet republics in Central Asia - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

"On his last trip to the region in October, Special Representative Khalilzad called on the Afghan Government and the Taliban to organize authoritative negotiating teams, and has been encouraged to see that both parties are taking steps in that direction", the State Department said in a statement.

In a significant departure from India's stand on engaging the Taliban, the government announced it would participate at a "non-official" level, sending two former senior diplomats to attend talks on the Afghanistan peace process to be held in Russian Federation on Thursday. 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.

He also shared the demands of Taliban for reconciliation which included establishment of environment of trust, removal of USA sanctions on Taliban, specifying a safe zone for peace talks, opening of a formal office for Taliban, worldwide community's guarantee of peace talks, and release of prisoners.

Sources said the Indian government took the decision to send former diplomats in consultation with the Afghan government.

According to Russian news agency TASS, this is for the second time, Russia is attempting to bring regional powers together while discovering ways for establishing peace in war-torn Afghanistan. The presence of both sides "will be an important contribution to providing favorable conditions for the start of direct talks between the government and the Taliban movement", he said.

Pakistan also supports the move and is likely to participate. But this time, it has managed to carefully balance Russian and U.S. interests, as it is sending the Afghan High Peace Council's representatives, instead of its foreign ministry representatives.

The Afghan delegation was headed by Deputy Minister for Afghan Ministry of Refugee Affairs Dr Alema Aslam, while Secretary SAFRON led the Pakistan side in the meeting, which discussed matters related to Afghan refugees and other Afghan nationals illegally residing in Pakistan.

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