KABUL: Taliban delegates will hold their first meeting with Afghan opposition figures in Moscow on Tuesday, in a move that could “isolate” President Ashraf Ghani from the peace process.
Government spokesman Sibghat Ahmadi said the talks were “not in Afghanistan’s interest,” and accused Moscow of breaking past pledges to Kabul to facilitate direct meetings with the insurgents.
The Taliban’s senior negotiator, Sher Mohammed Abbas Stanekzai, who represented them in discussions with US diplomats in Qatar in January, will lead the group’s delegation.
He, along with the Taliban’s ex-ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, will meet with Afghanistan’s former president, Hamid Karzai, and a number of powerful opposition politicians, including Atta Muhammad Noor and Mohammed Mohaqiq
Mohammed Hanif Atmar, Ghani’s main rival for the presidency, will also attend the talks.
“We consider this meeting in Moscow a significant step in intra-Afghan dialogue,” Atmar said in a statement.
Afghan lawyer Raihana Azad, who is also attending, doubted the discussions would result in any substantive outcome because the government was refusing to participate.
“We want lasting peace and want transparent discussions, but this meeting will not yield much as the government will be absent,” she told Arab News.
The Russian Embassy in Kabul, meanwhile, said: “We hope that intra-Afghan dialogue will lead to understanding, and bring the warring sides in the conflict closer together.”
Zamir Kabulov, Moscow’s envoy to Afghanistan, is thought to have facilitated the meeting.
While Azad doubted its significance due to the government’s absence, some experts believe Ghani’s stance could backfire.
Political analyst Hamidullah Hotak said: “The government’s reluctance to attend the meeting will isolate it from the peace process.”
He added that Ghani, who is standing for re-election in July’s presidential race, had “failed to bring consensus among Afghans,” and wanted to control the peace process “to use as an achievement for his campaign.”
Due to objections from the Taliban, government representatives have also been excluded from recent talks between the group and US diplomats in recent months.
The Ghani administration had privately expressed anger at the US team, led by diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad, for their failure to persuade the insurgents to allow them to attend. Tensions in Kabul are especially high, amid growing concern that President Donald Trump could push ahead with plans to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan in the coming months.