Russia hosts Taliban officials for high-profile Afghanistan talks

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Russia hosted talks on Afghanistan on Wednesday involving senior representatives of the Taliban and neighbouring nations, a round of diplomacy that underlined Moscow’s clout in Central Asia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov opened the talks and emphasised that “forming a really inclusive government fully reflecting the interests of not only all ethnic groups but all political forces of the country” is necessary to achieve a stable peace in Afghanistan, a nation of 39 million.

Russia had worked for years to establish contacts with the Taliban, even though it designated the group a terror organisation in 2003 and never took it off the list. Any contact with such groups is punishable under Russian law, but the Foreign Ministry has responded to questions about the apparent contradiction by saying its exchanges with the Taliban are essential for helping stabilise Afghanistan.

Unlike many other countries, Russia hasn’t evacuated its embassy in Kabul and its ambassador has maintained regular contacts with the Taliban since they took over the Afghan capital of Kabul in August.

Moscow praises Taliban

Lavrov commended the Taliban for their efforts to stabilise the military-political situation in the country and ensure the operation of state structures.

“We are satisfied with the level of practical interaction with Afghan authorities, which allows to effectively ensure the security of Russian citizens in Afghanistan and the unimpeded operation of our embassy in Kabul,” Lavrov said in his opening speech.

At the same time, he emphasised the importance of respecting human rights and pursuing balanced social policies, adding that he discussed those issues with the Taliban delegation before the talks.

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Lavrov said Russia would soon dispatch a shipment of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.

Calls for an inclusive government

Zamir Kabulov, the Kremlin envoy on Afghanistan who also attended the talks, said the international recognition of the Taliban will hinge on the inclusiveness of their government and their human rights record.

“We expect the Taliban to meet … the request of the international community about inclusivity and basic human rights, which include broadly all kinds of human rights, and they confirmed that they are working on that, the process of improvement of governance, the process of improving the human rights situation,” Kabulov told reporters.

Abdul Salam Hanafi, a deputy prime minister in the Taliban’s interim government who attended Wednesday’s talks, said “the meeting is very important for stability of the entire region.”

The Soviet Union fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with its troops withdrawing in 1989. In recent years, Moscow has made a strong comeback as an influential power broker in international talks on Afghanistan, hosting the Taliban representatives and members of other factions for bilateral and multilateral meetings.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted there must be no rush in officially recognising the Taliban as the new rulers of Afghanistan, but emphasised the need to engage in talks with them.

ISIS threat

At the same time, Putin and other Russian officials stressed the threats posed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State group and other militants based in northern Afghanistan, and noted that drug trafficking from Afghanistan will continue to present a challenge.

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“Numerous terrorist groups, notably the Islamic State and al-Qaida are trying to take advantage of the instability in the country mounting bloody attacks,” Lavrov said. “There is a real danger of terrorism and drugs spilling into the neighbouring nations under the guise of migration.”

Russia’s top diplomat urged the Taliban “not to allow the territory of Afghanistan (to be) used against the interests of any third countries, primarily its neighbours, our friends and allies in Central Asia.”

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