Members of the Afghan delegation who will attend the two-day peace meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow this week have quashed rumors that such a meeting could harm the Afghan political system and instead described it as the continuation of peace efforts by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation.
They said although there is no clear agenda for the two-day peace meeting with the Taliban delegation, the Afghan team will put forward the need to protect gains made over the past 17 years.
The Moscow meeting will mark the first face-to-face peace talks meeting between Taliban officials and some mainstream Afghan politicians.
The participants have meanwhile confirmed that Russia played a key role in organizing the meeting, but they said the meeting was part of efforts being made to persuade the Taliban to endorse talks with the Afghan government.
“Not at all, the talks are not against any party, neither are they aimed at weakening the system nor is it against the peace efforts by Mr. Khalilzad,” said Wahid Muzhdah, who is one of the delegates attending the talks.
“My message to the Taliban is to show flexibility during the talks so that a solution is found to the war in Afghanistan,” said Nazar Mohammad Mutmaeen, another delegate.
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who addressed reporters in Kabul on Monday, said that political activists have the right to sit with the Taliban anywhere, but reiterated that government should not be ignored or sidelined in negotiations.
“Such meetings will make the stubborn Taliban even more stubborn than before. As the political figures in their statement said that they will defend democracy and the gains, we hope that this meeting opens the window for intra-Afghan dialogue. There is a need for more to be done on a regional level.
The regional countries have got concerns and they will not wait to see what a country will decide,” said Abdullah.
He also called on the Afghan politicians to stand united.
“Parity and desperation are not in our interests. Because the Taliban exploits disagreements to pursue their own objectives,” he said.
Three women are among those attending the meeting – which marks the first time Afghan women have a platform to convey their message to the Taliban.
“I want to tell them (Taliban) that their wives have also been a victim and women were sacrificed on this side too and eventually the women will not be willing to make more sacrifices,” said Laila Jaffari, one of the female delegates.
But, the Afghan government insists that this meeting will not help untangle the complexities of attaining peace.
“Moscow meeting is in opposition to Khalilzad’s meetings, because in Khalilzad’s meetings, there is a kind of accountability and reporting back to the Afghan government; but with the Moscow meeting, such action does not exist,” said political activist Bilal Ahmad Niazi.
Sources close to the Taliban meanwhile said a delegation of 10 from their group, led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, former head of Taliban’s Qatar office, will also attend the Moscow talks.
In a statement on Sunday, sent to the media by former president Hamid Karzai’s office, it was said the meeting was an “intra-Afghan peace dialogue” initiated by the Council of Afghans Society in Russia.
The statement said the talks hold “special importance” and is “the first step towards an intra-Afghan dialogue”.
The statement also noted that the delegation’s main stance will be to defend achievements and safeguard an Islamic Republic system, national institutions, security and defense institutions.
It went on to state the delegation hopes the Moscow meeting will be “complementary” to the US efforts for Afghan peace and for encouraging a national and regional consensus around this process.
News of the Moscow meeting was met with mixed reaction by Afghan politicians and analysts last week. Some said the summit was a “confrontation” between Russia and the United States on Afghan peace, while others said it was a chance for the peace process.
Afghan politicians who will attend the talks include former president Hamid Karzai, former vice president Mohammad Yunus Qanuni, former Balkh governor and Jamiat-e-Islami member Atta Mohammad Noor, Jamiat-e-Islami member Mohammad Ismail Khan, second deputy chief executive and Wahdat party member Mohammad Mohaqiq, head of National Islamic Front of Afghanistan Sayed Hamid Gailani, former member of Taliban Abdul Salam Zaeef, Zabihullah Mujaddedi, son of former president Sebghatullah Mujaddedi, and Zia Massoud, Jamiat member and President Ashraf Ghani’s former special envoy on reforms.