Afghanistan Looks To Russia For Help Bringing Taliban To Negotiating Table

REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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After 17 years of war, Afghanistan is looking to a former foe to help it bring its present adversary to the negotiating table.

In a Wednesday meeting with Russia’s envoy to Afghanistan, Kabul’s top security official said Moscow is an intermediary than can convince Taliban leaders to make a deal.

Russia should “put pressure on Taliban insurgents to begin negotiations with the Afghan government,” Afghanistan’s national security adviser Hanif Atmar said, according to Reuters.

Atmar’s meeting comes as Moscow has moved in recent months to deepen its contacts with the Taliban, which is formally banned in Russia. Moscow says it maintains diplomatic channels with the Taliban to protect Russian citizens in Afghanistan, but the dialogue has also helped it gain influence with a group that appears likely to share power in a post-war agreement.

“We never concealed that we maintain contacts with the Taliban — it is part of Afghan society,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday, according to CNN. “We support these contacts, primarily in the interests of ensuring the safety of Russian citizens in Afghanistan, Russian institutions, but also to encourage the Taliban to abandon the armed struggle and enter into a nationwide dialogue with the government.”

In a sign of Russia’s sway with the Taliban, Lavrov announced Tuesday that the group’s representatives have agreed to participate in a peace conference in Moscow. The talks, set for Sept. 4, will include regional players China, Iran and Pakistan, which all share a border with Afghanistan.

Washington has declined to attend the conference.

“We support Afghan-owned and -led initiatives to advance a peace settlement in Afghanistan,” a U.S. Department of State spokesman said, according to the Washington Post. “We believe this initiative is unlikely to yield any progress toward that end.”

The U.S. has reportedly opened its own back channel diplomacy with the Taliban, reversing a longstanding policy of leaving direct talks with the group to the Afghan government. American diplomats held private meetings with Taliban representatives in July in Doha, Qatar, where the group maintains its only overseas political office. (RELATED: Report: WH Will Begin Direct Talks With Taliban In Outreach Effort To End 17-Year War In Afghanistan)

A hardline Islamist movement, the Taliban came to power in brutal civil war that engulfed Afghanistan when the country’s Soviet-backed regime collapsed in the early 1990s. Many of the group’s leaders and fighters were drawn from the ranks of U.S.-funded mujahideen that had fought the Soviet occupation throughout the previous decade.

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