Islamabad/MOSCOW - As the second round of the Moscow format consultations on Afghanistan ended in the Russian capital, the Afghan government and Taliban still seemed far apart and unlikely to negotiate unmediated without a breakthrough.

Participants at the meeting focused on launching direct inter-Afghan dialogue aiming at stabilisation of the country and “agreed to continue consultations within the framework of this mechanism," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a final communique following the meeting.

Din Mohammad Azizullah, head of the Afghan government delegation, confirmed that he had "brief talks" with the Taliban members at a working lunch, characterising the talks as "friendly."

But Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, who led the Taliban group, reiterated that the Taliban do not see the current government in Kabul as legitimate. "This government does not represent the people of Afghanistan, so we reject direct contact with them before the problem with the US is solved. Therefore, we will talk with the Americans, especially about the withdrawal of troops," he said.

"We met with the American side at the negotiating table and asked them to leave Afghanistan. But, of course, so far these negotiations are at a very early stage, we haven’t reached an agreement yet," he said.

The meeting marked the first time the Afghan government and Taliban meet for direct talks at a high level. The conference was held at the level of deputy foreign ministers and related special representatives.

Addressing participants at the start of the conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the meeting is meant to seek paths to national reconciliation in Afghanistan.

Before the meeting, Habiba Sarabi, a member of the Afghan High Peace Council delegation, said the Afghan government delegation came to Moscow to talk to the Taliban."Our expectations are to talk to the Taliban members at this meeting," she said.

She added "We came here for a political solution. We appreciate the efforts of any country that tries to contribute to Afghan peace."

The Afghan government and Taliban representatives made separate statements following the end of the official part of the conference.

Eshan Taheri, representative of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan, said that Kabul was ready for direct talks with the Taliban without preconditions. "We confirmed to them [Taliban representatives] that we are ready to go on negotiations without conditions. We asked them to define a date and place for the direct talks," he said.

The meeting in Moscow helped move things in this direction, he added.

Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Mohammed Suhail Shaheen stressed that the withdrawal of foreign troops is crucial for the Afghan peace process. He also denied reports of deliveries of Russian weapons to the Taliban, saying that they are not true.

Kabul sent to Moscow a five-member delegation led by Azizullah, the deputy chair of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, with Habiba Sarabi as spokesperson. Afghan Ambassador to Russia Qayum Kochai joined the group in Moscow.

Taliban spokesman Mohammed Suhail Shaheen declined to specify the number in their delegation, but five Taliban representatives were present at a roundtable in the conference hall, and beforehand, up to nine people were seen. Stanikzai, the head of the Taliban’s Political Office, led the delegation.

The Afghan and Taliban delegations were divided at the roundtable only by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, presiding over the meeting on behalf of the host country.

Russian Presidential Envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov helped Morgulov mediate the conference. Representatives from seven countries including Pakistan, Iran, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan attended the meeting and delivered their speeches. Representatives from from the United States as well as India also participated.

Earlier, addressing the opening session of the conference, Russian FM Lavrov said regional actors and the friendly countries of Afghanistan participating in the conference were hopeful to thoroughly help initiate political talks among Afghan groups.

He said there existed obstacles and inconveniences in the way, however said the participating politicians were making efforts to act on the basis of the interests of the Afghan nation, and not their own interests.

Lavrov added that Afghanistan was one of the goals of the terrorists and added that the terrorists were attempting to condone with ISIL formation with foreign support to turn Afghanistan into a base for an attack on Central Asia.

He added that no doubt all participants in the conference would accept the approach. He stated that Russia will support an integrated Afghanistan in which everyone lives in peace and reconciliation.

Additional Secretary at Foreign Office Mohammed Aejaz led the Pakistani delegation to Moscow for ‘Format Consultations on Afghanistan.’

In his address, the diplomat appreciated the Russian Federation’s role for bringing together an important group of interlocutors with the aim of ensuring peace in Afghanistan.

“Since its first meeting in December 2016, the Moscow consultation forum has continued to grow and gain strength through inclusion of new members. I take this opportunity to welcome the Taliban delegation, besides the Afghan delegation led by senior members of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan. Their presence is the hallmark of today’s consultations for which the efforts made by the organisers of the conference must be appreciated,” he said.

Pakistan, he said, had consistently supported and had remained part of all efforts aimed at providing an enabling environment to find a peaceful resolution to the Afghan issue.

“Platforms like the Moscow Consultation process, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, the Heart of Asia - Istanbul Process, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Contact group on Afghanistan, the Kabul process, and various trilateral processes such as the Pakistan-Afghanistan-China and Pakistan-Afghanistan-Turkey forums,” he said.

He said Pakistan had strongly and consistently underscored the need to give peace and reconciliation a fair chance in Afghanistan, through initiatives that were acceptable to the Afghan people.

He said it was due to Pakistan’s efforts that the international community endorsed and adopted the phrase “Afghan-owned, Afghan-led” to settle the Afghan issue.

“The vision manifested Pakistan’s utmost respect for Afghanistan’s sovereignty and the desire to empowering the Afghan nation to take its destiny in its own hands. Today the international community is also united in its desire to help Afghanistan arrive at a solution that is acceptable to their entire nation, and which successive Afghan generations could faithfully adhere to as a guarantee for the long-term peace and prosperity of their country,” Aejaz said.

Operationalisation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plans for Peace and Stability in May 2018, he said, was the latest manifestation of Pakistan’s sincere and consistent approach to meaningfully strengthen its relations with Afghanistan.

“Both sides worked hard and demonstrated considerable flexibility to make APAPPS a reality. APAPPS provides a comprehensive framework for regular bilateral engagements between concerned institutions and ministries on the two sides, under five Working Groups on the Politico-Diplomatic, Military, Intelligence, Trade and Economic and Refugees issues. As such the APAPPS provides an effective mechanism to address all bilateral issues, if utilized properly,” he added.

Over the years, he said, Pakistan had also kept urging all stakeholders to work together for creating favourable conditions for a result-oriented peace process, as no single country has the ability to help in breaking the existing stalemate in Afghanistan.

Pakistan, Mohammed Aejaz said, believed that there was no military solution available and only a political solution, fully cognizant of and responsive to the hard core socio-cultural, political and economic realities of Afghanistan, can restore peace in the country.

“We must admit that it remains a difficult goal to achieve because it demands flexibility from all sides, especially on the hardened positions and stances, and a willingness to negotiate without pre-conditions, so that new ideas and peace efforts could find greater space to emerge and steer the Afghan peace process. I am sure, approaching this hard task with faith and sincerity of purpose would make the effort easier, fruitful and mutually beneficial,” he said.

The Pakistani diplomat said the time had come where all stakeholders should directly and clearly engage to understand each other’s positions and concerns for making such discussions purposeful.


Afghan leaders, Taliban come face to face in Moscow