MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Representatives of the Taliban movement will attend the Moscow format of Afghan reconciliation talks scheduled for September 4, Russian Foreign Ministry’s Second Asian Department Director Zamir Kabulov said Monday.
On Monday, Kabulov told Sputnik that Russia expected the Taliban to participate in the upcoming conference. Later in the day, the Wall Steet Journal reported citing sources that Taliban representatives had agreed to participate in this meeting. Afghan Ambassador to Russia Abdul Qayyum Kochai told Sputnik that Kabul did not mind the participation of the Taliban in the meeting.
“Yes, they will come on September 4. Preparation for the meeting is now underway,” Kabulov told the Izvestiya newspaper.
Russian Foreign Ministry noted that Moscow maintains contacts with the Taliban only to ensure the safety of Russian citizens in Afghanistan and to encourage this group to join the process of national reconciliation. In March 2018, Kabulov said that contacts between Moscow and the Taliban had been established several years ago, when Russia was seriously concerned about the possibility of terrorist threats to Russian overseas institutions and citizens. The diplomat stressed the importance to clarify the plans of the Taliban leadership towards the Russians, and Moscow received assurances that the Taliban had no hostile intentions towards Russian citizens and institutions.
The latest diplomatic efforts on Afghanistan come amid Kabul’s bids to reach a lasting ceasefire. On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a conditional ceasefire with the Taliban to mark the upcoming Eid al-Adha Muslim holiday. The ceasefire began on Monday and is projected to last until November 19. The president stressed that the ceasefire would be established only if the radical movement agreed to cease hostilities. However, local media reported earlier on Monday that the Taliban movement kidnapped passengers travelling on three buses in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province despite the announcement of the ceasefire.
In June, the two sides declared a ceasefire timed to the Eid al-Fitr holiday. The government then prolonged the duration of the truce. The Taliban, however, did not follow suit.
Afghanistan’s government forces have long been fighting Taliban insurgency, as well as the Islamic State terrorist group (Daesh, outlawed in Russia), with the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces conducting joint counterterrorist operations across the country.