Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday phoned Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani and discussed issues of mutual interest, including the planned peace talks in Moscow – which the two officials agreed to postpone.
The Presidential Palace (ARG) said in a statement that although Afghanistan strongly values the efforts by its regional and international partners towards restoring peace in the country, the Afghan government believes that any efforts for peace must be carried out in complete cooperation and harmony with the Afghan government and the Afghan people.
According to the statement, Ghani hailed Moscow for its efforts for peace in Afghanistan, but he told Lavrov that any talks must be an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process.
“In the telephonic conversation, the president of the country hailed the efforts made by Afghanistan’s regional and international friends, especially the Russian Federation towards lasting peace in Afghanistan and said that the peace plan which was presented at the second Kabul Process conference had been outlined in consultation with various segments of society and with the support of the international community and the plan has defined all basic principles for sustainable peace in the country,” read the statement. This was in reference to Ghani’s peace offer to the Taliban at the second Kabul Process Conference in Kabul in April.
Lavrov meanwhile assured Ghani during their conversation that Russia was also in support of an Afghan-owned peace process and that Moscow was prepared to cooperate with the Afghan government regarding peace.
“In the telephonic conversation, it was decided to postpone the Moscow conference so that the two countries can coordinate on further preparations and effectiveness of the process,” read the statement.
This comes just days after Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) objected to Moscow’s proposed talks on Afghanistan and said that any talks for peace should be carried out under the leadership of the Afghan government and the people.
In a statement issued on Thursday, MoFA said that although it appreciated the efforts by Russia for peace in Afghanistan, it stated that the Afghan government expected its regional and international partners to pave the way for intra-Afghan dialogue.
“Afghanistan will not attend a meeting where there is no commitment by the Taliban to enter direct talks with the government. The government would attend talks with the Taliban at any location but these would have to be direct talks,” MoFA’s statement read.
“Any regional consensus about Afghanistan needs to be structured in axis of the Afghan government. The peace process definitely needs to be carried out under the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. We will not participate in the Moscow talks,” said MoFA deputy spokesman Sibghat Ahmadi.
But, a former Taliban political figure Sayed Akbar Agha said last week that the Taliban planned to attend the meeting.
“Taliban has agreed to the Moscow talks and they will attend it. These talks are related to Asia. Foreign forces have come to Asian countries and there are concerns among these countries about it. All these countries want foreign forces to withdraw from Afghanistan,” he said.
US rejects Russia-led Talks on Afghanistan
Last week the US also turned down the invitation by Russia to join Russia-led talks on Afghanistan, saying they were unlikely to help bring peace.
A State Department spokesman said Wednesday that as a matter of principle, the US supports Afghan-led efforts to advance a peace settlement.
The talks scheduled for September 4 would have seen a number of regional countries come together over the Afghanistan issue.
When announcing its plan for talks, Russia said it had invited the Taliban and 12 countries, including Afghanistan and the United States, to attend the Moscow meeting.
However, Russia’s Foreign Ministry retaliated over the US’s refusal to participate and said last week that Washington’s "refusal to attend the Moscow meeting on Afghanistan shows Washington has no interest in launching a peace process in Afghanistan."
Pakistan, a key actor
The Moscow talks issue also comes at a crucial juncture for Pakistan – as its new Prime Minister Imran Khan is only just settling in to office.
Khan has however pledged to work for peace in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has long been accused of having a strong influence over the Taliban and despite a number of crackdowns, has not taken any substantial steps in peace efforts – especially in terms of claims of them providing safe havens to Taliban leaders.
The Afghan government has constantly called on the Taliban to denounce violence and end the war and to engage in direct peace talks with government. But to date, the Taliban has shown no real willingness to engage in peace talks with government. Instead it has expanded its insurgent activities across the country, seizing more territory and inflicting more casualties on Afghan security forces and civilians.