Senior members of the Taliban will attend talks with the Kabul government in Moscow this week to discuss the future of war-ravaged Afghanistan, the insurgent group said Monday.
The two sides are due to meet at Russia’s invitation ahead of a May deadline for US President Joe Biden to decide whether to end the two-decade military involvement in Afghanistan.
The US State Department said Monday that Washington’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, will also attend the meeting in Moscow as part of ongoing US efforts “to encourage and support the peace process.”
The Thursday talks “will complement all other international efforts to support the Afghan peace process, and also reflects the international community’s concerns about the progress to date,” State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters.
The US has encouraged the Afghan leadership to work towards establishing an “inclusive” government and peace accord amid fears of rapid Taliban gains once US troops leave.
“A high-level delegation of 10 members of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, led by [Taliban co-founder] Mullah Baradar Akhund … will attend the meeting held in Moscow,” tweeted Mohammad Naeem, spokesman for the Taliban office in Qatar.
The United States, despite tensions with Russia, has welcomed Moscow’s role and also consulted its other rival, China, as diplomacy steps up.
Biden is wrapping up a review on whether to stick to an agreement with the Taliban negotiated by his predecessor Donald Trump who wanted to pull the last US troops from Afghanistan by May.
The Biden administration has signaled it wants to take a hard look at Trump’s deal and its repercussions for Afghanistan and regional stability.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote a letter to Afghan leaders encouraging them to consider a “new, inclusive government.”
He also proposed that talks take place within weeks in Turkey to seal a comprehensive peace deal with the Taliban.
Turkey plans to host an Afghan peace conference in Istanbul in April, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week.
The Russian and Turkish initiatives will run alongside the Qatar-hosted talks between the Afghan government in Doha which have been ongoing with long pauses since September 2020.
Cavusoglu has signalled that he did not necessarily expect the Istanbul meeting to produce an immediate breakthrough.