Russia backs US plan for Taliban role in Afghanistan interim govt

Jonathan BROWN with Burin GERCEK in Ankara
·3-min read
Afghan security forces escort suspected Taliban fighters

Russia on Friday backed a US initiative to include the Taliban in a future interim Afghanistan government, as global powers ramp up efforts to secure a peace deal and end decades of war.

The Taliban and Afghan government will meet next week in Moscow at Russia's invitation ahead of a May deadline for US President Joe Biden to decide whether to end the two-decade military involvement in the ravaged country.

Washington has encouraged the Afghan leadership to work towards establishing an "inclusive" government and peace accord amid fears of rapid Taliban gains once US troops leave.

"The formation of an interim inclusive administration would be a logical solution to the problem of integrating the Taliban into the peaceful political life of Afghanistan," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters ahead of Moscow's diplomatic effort, its latest in the country since ending its occupation in 1989.

Zakharova said that decisions should be made "by the Afghans themselves".

- 'Russia has an important stake' -

The United States, despite tensions with Russia, has welcomed Moscow's role and also consulted fellow rival China as diplomacy steps up.

"We welcome, as we have said, efforts by international partners to accelerate the peace process and to bring about a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

"We do believe Russia as well as other countries in the region has an important stake in a secure and stable Afghanistan," he said, without commenting on whether the United States would participate in the talks.

Biden is wrapping up a review on whether to stick to an agreement with the Taliban negotiated by his predecessor Donald Trump who wanted to pull out the final US troops from Afghanistan by May.

The Biden administration has signalled that it wants to take a hard look at Trump's deal and its repercussions for Afghanistan and regional stability.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote a letter to Afghan leaders encouraging them to consider a "new, inclusive government".

He also proposed that talks take place within weeks in Turkey to seal a comprehensive peace deal with the Taliban.

Nader Naderi, a negotiator for the Afghan government, told AFP that the kind of new government and the means through which peace can be achieved "is solely up to the Afghans".

"Our neighbours near and far must respect that sovereign right of our people," he said.

- No speedy breakthrough -

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut said Friday that Ankara was ready to host Afghan talks in April in Istanbul.

"Both the Taliban and the negotiation delegation, meaning the government side, had asked us to host such a meeting before," the Anadolu state news agency quoted Cavusoglu as saying.

"We will do this (meeting) in coordination with brotherly Qatar," he added in reference to long-running diplomacy involving the Taliban in Doha.

The scheduled US military withdrawal is being complicated by a new surge in fighting and concern that a speedy exit may only unleash further chaos.

The Doha Accord says the Taliban promises not to allow Afghan territory to be used by terrorists after the US withdrawal.

Blinken proposed a 90-day reduction in violence that would avoid the Taliban's annual bloody spring offensive.

He added that Washington was asking the United Nations to convene a meeting of foreign ministers from Afghanistan's neighbours on ensuring future stability.

But the Afghan leadership has responded to Blinken's letter with extreme caution.

Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh said the country's fate could not be decided by "20 people in a room".

Cavusoglu also signalled that he did not necessarily expect the Istanbul meeting to produce an immediate breakthrough.

"Maybe a ceasefire cannot be obtained but it is a continuing process," Turkey's state news agency quoted him as saying.

"We are giving a message to the Taliban. We are telling them to end the attacks. We are telling them there can be no real negotiations while the attacks continue."

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