Russia hosts Taliban, calls for inclusive Afghan gov’t

Russia has called on the Taliban to form a government that includes all ethnic groups and political forces in Afghanistan, as the group attended a round of talks in Moscow.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Wednesday’s conference in Moscow that the Kremlin recognises the Taliban’s “efforts” to try and stabilise the situation in Afghanistan since taking power in mid-August.

“A new administration is in power now,” Lavrov told the gathering. “We note their efforts to stabilise the military and political situation and set up work of the state apparatus.”

But he urged the group to now assemble an administration “reflecting the interests of not only all ethnic groups but all political forces” in Afghanistan in order to achieve a stable peace in the country.

Officials from 10 countries, including China and Pakistan, are participating in the conference. Representatives from India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are also attending.

The talks mark one of the Taliban’s most significant international meetings since it assumed control of Afghanistan and underline Moscow’s clout.

Lavrov told Wednesday’s conference the Kremlin recognised the Taliban’s ‘efforts’ to try and stabilise the situation in Afghanistan since taking power in mid-August [Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via AFP]

Lavrov said Moscow regretted the absence of the United States at the conference. Washington earlier said it would not join this round of talks due to technical reasons but planned to attend future discussions.

The Taliban delegation was headed by Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi, a senior figure in the new Afghan leadership who led talks with the European Union and the US last week.

Abdul said the meeting was “very important for the stability of the entire region.”

No recognition ‘for now’

The talks come after Moscow said on Tuesday that Russia, China and Pakistan are willing to provide aid to Afghanistan, which is now facing a looming humanitarian and economic crisis.

Lavrov said that Russia would soon send humanitarian aid and demanded the international community mobilise resources to prevent a humanitarian disaster.

Adopting a cautious approach, Moscow has also made clear it is not yet ready to recognise the Taliban government.

Lavrov said the Kremlin was withholding recognition from the Taliban while waiting for the group to fulfil promises made when it took power, including on the political and ethnic inclusivity of the new government.

Critics have said the Taliban, which remains banned as a “terrorist” organisation in Russia, is backtracking on pledges to protect the rights of women and minorities. Observers said the group is also persecuting its foes, having publicly ruled this out.

“Official recognition of the Taliban is not under discussion for now,” Lavrov told reporters. “Like most of other influential countries in the region, we are in contact with them. We are prodding them to fulfil the promises they made when they came to power.”

Other Russian officials tempered expectations for Wednesday’s talks.

Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative on Afghanistan, said last week he did not expect any breakthroughs.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the meeting was “an attempt to know what will happen in Afghanistan going forward”.

The Taliban came to power as the Afghan government, headed by former President Ashraf Ghani, collapsed when Washington and its allies withdrew troops after a two-decades-long intervention in the country.

Russia, which fought its own disastrous war in the country from 1979 to 1989, is trying to lead diplomatic efforts to avoid instability in the wider region that could damage its interests.

Putin has warned of the possibility of “Islamist extremists” infiltrating the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which Moscow views as a defensive buffer.

Unlike many other countries, Russia has not evacuated its embassy in Kabul and its ambassador has maintained regular contact with the Taliban in recent months.

Members of the political delegation from the Afghan Taliban’s movement attend talks involving Afghan representatives in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, October 20, 2021 [Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool/AP]

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